Straight from the homeless community.
Homeless Stoners Myth Busted
By Baby Boy Beuford
Homeless Out Loud
Dear Mr. Homeless Service Provider, Dear Mrs. Homless Shelter Director, and Dear Denver Post, Westword, CBS, 9news, and Fox News.
Stop propagating the myth that weed is the reason for increased homeless populations in Denver. You’re not doing anyone any good.
I know, you want everyone to think that homeless people are deficient and drug addicted. And even though weed is legal in Colorado, it is quite convenient for you to describe unsheltered people as stoners as a way to continue to blame poor people for being poor. Like systems that perpetuate poverty, your explanation doesn’t challenge anything. It just reinforces prejudice and the egocentrism of privilege and power.
You see, if everyone who lives on the streets of Denver is here because wee is legal, well, I guess that means that it’s their own choice to be here, because they choose to smoke weed (or so your logic goes), and I guess it’s their choice to be homeless, because homelessness is a choice (or so your logic goes), and I don’t have to think any harder about reality, I can just go home, drink my beer and smoke my own substances in the privacy of my own home, and think about how much better I am than homeless people.
Ok, ok, so I’l admit, some people who are poor moved here because weed was leglized. It’s true. Some came thinking they could get a job in the weed industry (only to find out you have to be a Colorado resident for over a year to get a job in a dispensry). Others came because they smoke for medicinal reasons, and didn’t want to risk going to jail just so they could get some relief. But that’s not the full story.
Do you remember any recent histry? Like the’80s, when the federal low income house budget got slashed from $83 billion dollars to just $13 billion in 5 years (1978-1983). What happened next? Homelessness trippled in size, and more emergency shelters opened in that decade than any other. And the, funny thing, Reagan – who helped slash the housing budget – gets on air and introduces the “homeless by choice” narrative that everyone seems to love.
Then, 30 years later, the housing budget is roughtly half of what it was in 1978 ($45 billion), and Denver has a huge housing problem and a large homeless population. The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative’s annual Point in Time Survey – which admits it is always an undercount – counted over 11 thousand unsheltered people in Denver in 2013. Then every start up tech company and their brother decides to move here. And then voters choose to legalize weed.
Then what happens? According to the Denver Post, “Metro Denver rents zoom up 13.1 percent” in one year, meaning poor people who lived here prior to the weed/tech boom are at greater risk of becoming homeless because more and more people are cost burdened by rent. According to HUD (the federal housing authority), “Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care.” According to math — a person who makes minimum wage and works full time in Denver makes $1280 a month before taxes. And according to the rentjungle.com and google, “As of October 2014, average apartment rent within 10 miles of Denver, CO is $1553. One bedroom apartments in Denver rent for $1244 a month on average and two bederoom apartment rent averages $1625.” Meaning, to rent an average-rent apartment while working full time at an entry-level job, you would have to pay 97.1% of your income to rent, and that would only be possible if you got paid under the table and didn’t pay any taxes.
So yuppies, rich potheads and ‘entrepreneurs’ from New Jersey and Brooklyn moved here to make some cash and Denver’s gov’mnt did nothing to ensure that rent would still be affordable. So, we saw an increase in ‘homelessness’ in Denver. That’s the real story — rich people drove up the rent, and poor people here became worse off.
But it’s easier to just say that homeless people are lazy stoners who ‘choose to be homeless in Denver’, so that’s what you report.
Now may I ask a favor of you? If you aren’t going to tell the whole story, please shut up.
‘entrepreneurs’ — a word used by boring jerks who are neither innovative nor creative.
Thank you to Homeless Out Loud Denver for this important perspective.