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'You Don't Choose That Life': Mental Health Center Of Denver Helps People Break Cycle Of Homelessness

DENVER (CBS4) — The cycle of homelessness is hard to break, no one knows this better than Leannan Scott. The Iowa-native has been chronically homeless for years. She sold her viola to buy a bus ticket to Denver, hoping for better life, but was only met with disappointment. Until she found the Mental Health Center of Denver.

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An empty promise made by a family member left her on the street, spending nights in an abandoned car wash.

"She said if I came to Denver she would help me," explained Scott. "It was hard finding a safe place to sleep. I tried sleeping at the library, but the police kick you out."

Scott's had a life of trauma and transition: from her changing address to how others address her. Leannan's legal name is Jason. She was born intersex and is currently transitioning to become female. She says she never received the psychological treatment, or family support, she needed as a child.

Scott's lived in her car, temporarily with friends, but to put it simply — she's been on the street for years. After a failed attempt in the military, and a failed attempt at college, a bright woman with much to offer was homeless.

To a passerby, she was no different than the stereotype society has grown to know.

"People think about the crazy guy doing crack on the corner. Those are the minority of us. Those people are self medicating. They have untreated mental health issues. Whether they've been diagnosed or not, they've got them. You don't live like that if you're healthy. You don't choose that life," said Scott.

After the abandoned car wash was torn down, she began to spend her nights at a shopping plaza off Hampden. A stranger befriended Scott and would often bring her things for herself and her dog. The kind stranger even offered to watch Scott's dog while she went job hunting. One day, the stranger noticed that Scott needed more help than she could give.

"When I started to cycle into depression, she got worried about me and she took me to a clinic on Colfax for suicide prevention. They didn't hold me after talking to me, but they referred to Mental Health Center of Denver," explained Scott.

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It was the kind of support Scott had been searching for, but didn't know existed. She visited shelter after shelter, searching for an advocate — someone who could provide her the mental health care and encouragement she needed.

"These places just give you somewhere to cool off when it's hot. They give you pastries," explained Scott, "All homeless outreach places need to be connected with real high quality mental health services."

That was the proper care and support Scott found at MHCD. She credits her case manager Jordan Dennison, a young grad student with a big heart, for getting her off the street.

"She's been supportive in my transition. She signed me up for the housing lottery. I didn't even know how to do that. She gave me a list of apartments. That's how I found this place. She helped me with paperwork. She helped me look for jobs. It's crazy the amount of work case managers put into us, and they're so underpaid," cried Scott.

Scott reflected on the time Dennison went out of her way to meet her in a park, because she wasn't comfortable meeting at MHCD offices.

If you ask Dennison, it's Scott who's doing all the work.

"I connect people to resources and I can give them the coping skills, but it's really their motivation and drive to use those things," explained Dennison. "This success is from [Scott's] tenacity. She doesn't like being dependent. We met several times to discuss employment."

Rehabilitation is a long process, and Scott is making strides. When she sits in her new home, listening to the sound of cars pass on Interstate 25, it reminds her of where she's been.

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"It's hard to accept. It doesn't seem real. Sometimes I look up and I think I'm going to see the car wash again," said Scott, "I'm afraid I'm going to lose it."

According to Dennison, Scott's fears aren't uncommon.

"You just got everything, you've made it, you're independent. There's that fear of losing it all. A lot of people struggle with that."

Dennison says the goal of mental health treatment is to get patients to a point where they don't need consistent care, but she says she'll never leave Scott alone in times of need.

"Recovery is an up-and-down journey. I'm just excited to see where she goes," smiled Dennison, "I'm happy to be along for the journey."

Thanks to Dennison, and the help of a kind stranger, Leannan Scott will never struggle alone again.

MHCD provides treatment, prevention, crisis services to more than 60,000 people every year. Whether you're homeless or well-off, there's never shame in asking for help. You don't have to struggle alone. For more information visit

An invaluable statewide resource is Colorado Crisis Services -- You can text, call or walk-in 24/7.

You can also call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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