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Homelessness pushes out to the Colorado foothills and Denver suburbs

Homelessness pushes out to the foothills and suburbs
Homelessness pushes out to the foothills and suburbs 03:58

In an RTD lot next to an open power outlet, they made their home. Kari Vernon and her boyfriend were living by a power box near a light pole in the green grass. There was a pile of things including suitcases and clothes, covered by a loose tarp. But it hadn't been raining.

"Missed the bus that last three days because only three buses that leave here in the morning and three that come here in the afternoon. So if you miss them three buses, you're stuck here," she said. They had come to Evergreen to get away from the city.

"Denver, I will never stay down there," she said.


"It's like once the sun goes down, it's crazy."

Crime and drugs and alcoholism among the homeless population are a worry.

"We've had a lot of stuff stolen. We've started over like seven times because all of our belongings are gone."

All over the metro area and foothills, homelessness has been spreading out.

In Jefferson County, many of the homeless are originally from the area. There are no year round overnight shelters in Jefferson County, so people either create their own shelter in places like parking lots or open spaces, or head into Denver where there is overnight shelter. But during the day, many return.

"They wind up coming back and they're afraid. Because it's too crowded. It's overcrowded they say and there's more crime in general," said Karen Cowling, director of Mission Arvada at The Rising Church. "They prefer to be in the environment that they're used to in a place where they feel safer."


Originally Mission Arvada at The Rising Church was asked by the city to help provide services to a growing homeless population. Mass transportation helps people get back and forth from the city and is part of what made Arvada attractive to people experiencing homelessness.

"The transit is right here. The parks and open space areas and restaurants and it's a desirable place for people to be homeless and otherwise," said Cowling. More and more people are seeking refuge here and in places like Lakewood and even Evergreen.

"For the last five years I would say, people are coming out into the suburbs," said Cowling.

Vernon and her boyfriend moved from Florida where crime was a problem as well. "My older son moved here and he was like Mom come on and check it out," she explained. He lives in Broomfield where he is concerned about his mother's situation.

"He worries about me all the time," said Vernon. "His wife's like, he worries about you from the moment he wakes up until he goes to sleep."

Now with more family news, she says she is thinking about finding housing and work.

"My youngest son's going to have a baby. I just want a normal life back."

In the past she has worked doing housekeeping and as a 7-11 clerk, which she says was her favorite job. With the help of Evergreen Christian Outreach she now has ID again.

"They got my ID for me so now I can get a job. Because I lost all my birth certificate and everything but now I'm slowly getting it all back." Vernon and her boyfriend, who does not come out of the shelter to talk, plan on getting to the bus in the morning to go down to Denver for services.

In Arvada homeless people collect in the area around the train station. Some are an agitation to businesses. Those with mental health problems can be intimidating and hard to shoo away. Cowling says the cost of housing and need for services leaves people on the streets who should not be is costly in other ways.

"Our economy and just the state of our situation in terms of not having enough mental health services and not having enough rehab and drug and alcohol treatment."

Recently the mission has been under pressure to move from Olde Town due to a belief that offering services attracts a homeless population, which has increased in recent years.

"We are trying to advocate for our clients that are experiencing homelessness, but we are also trying to work with the city and the community and make sure that our area is clean and orderly. So we're kind of the balance."

Clients served by the mission have to follow rules. Not all do and are banned. Not providing assistance she says would mean only more people without services, not fewer people dealing with homelessness. "Oh, no, no, no, no, absolutely not."

On the morning after talking about their situation at the Evergreen Park and Ride lot Kari Vernon and her boyfriend slept in, unwilling to come out of their enclosure to talk. The 7:40 bus came and went. They were still there.

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