Across the floor of the warehouse lay rows of beds spaced out six feet apart. From the outside, this warehouse looks like any other.
Inside, it has become a home for men experiencing homelessness. Located near the intersection of I-25 and Colorado Blvd., this warehouse, known as the 48th Avenue Center (owned by the City of Denver and operated by Denver Rescue Mission) has been instrumental in the way the City has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it’s had on our homeless community.
Most of the beds have men sleeping in them even though it is midafternoon. One bed is neatly made, though. This bed belongs to Donald. He rarely spends the weekdays here. Instead, he is all over Denver trying to get a copy of his various forms of identification. This is not where Donald plans to spend any more time than needed. Not after he already worked so hard to lift himself up out of homelessness once before.
Donald and I first met in 2018 while he was in Denver Rescue Mission’s New Life Program, a long-term rehabilitation program for men that teaches life skills and provides work readiness training. He spent two years with the Mission and eventually graduated from the program.
“I was firmly established in my own apartment,” Donald said. “I had graduated [from] The Crossing; I had a very, very nice job; loved working with people; was making good money,” he said of his time after graduation. Unfortunately, Donald’s success story was cut short.
He became sick toward the end of February 2020. Donald got tested and found out he had the flu. “It was bad enough to the point where I could only walk about half a block and then I had to stop and sit and regain my energy, take my backpack off, and then get started again,” he said. “I lost my job because of COVID. They shut down the restaurant completely.”
During that time, Denver had gone into full quarantine. The office buildings were virtually empty. Few cars traveled the streets and many businesses had boarded up windows with plywood. “It was very depressing and everybody was, you know, doing the whole social distancing—away from everybody,” he said.
Donald places a high value on fellowship. Even after he graduated from the New Life Program, he would volunteer at The Crossing on Sundays after church. He made it a point to go talk with his support network while he volunteered. Once the quarantine order was in place, Donald found himself entirely isolated.
“I ran out of money because I had no job, so [I was] letting the depression get to me and seeing no way out at that point in time,” he said. “It was only six blocks to the liquor store.”
Alcohol was the reason Donald first came to Denver Rescue Mission more than two years ago. At that time, he was staying at his sister’s house in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. They had a falling out—partially due to his drinking—that caused Donald to move to Denver. Although he managed to stay on friends’ couches for some time, Donald eventually found himself on the streets.
“I went to the streets and wandered around until I found an empty garage and spent a week there hardcore drinking,” he said. Donald’s week-long binge consisted of pints of whiskey. When he ran out of alcohol and money, he finally had to leave. “So, I was just stumbling down Colfax and the next thing I know, I was looking up at a paramedic,” he said.
He spent nine days in Rose Medical Center detoxing. “It was probably one of the worst moments of my life—one of the most embarrassing moments of my life—because I couldn’t control anything,” he said of his time in the hospital. After leaving Rose Medical Center, he had no belongings and no direction. He looked into a couple of housing options but they couldn’t accept him. Then, he experienced a moment that completely changed his circumstances.
“I felt a push in my back to just go on down here and just keep going,” he said. “I’m looking at the sidewalk to keep from tripping on anything and every time I looked up, I would still have this pressure in the middle of my back just kind of pushing me down the street until I landed in front of Denver Rescue Mission. Which, as it turns out, was one of the most amazing things.”
After Donald lost his job and subsequently his housing during the pandemic, he took to living on the streets once more. He suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and cancerous ulcers that cause his immune system to weaken, so Donald made the choice to sleep in a tent instead of a shelter.
“I went out and got a tent and an air mattress and moved into Lincoln Park—tent city,” he said, “which was okay for a couple of weeks [but] people were kind of losing their minds.”
For some, tented communities provide a sense of security. But Donald did not experience the safety he desired. “I was attacked a couple of times down there,” he said. “The second time that I was attacked, it was by six guys.” Donald spent a week and a half in the hospital afterward.
Once again, Donald was leaving the hospital with nowhere to stay and no belongings. Yet, this time he had clear direction. Now, Donald is staying at 48th Avenue Center, where the number of guests are smaller to ensure proper social distancing. He spends his days rebuilding the pieces of his life that he spent years forming. Donald’s love of the Mission is evident. “I was going to chapel on a regular basis, I had a great support group around me and I was making friends,” he said. He encourages the other men staying in the shelter to enroll in the New Life Program.
Donald assures them that with some hard work, they can make a change.
He has been applying to jobs in Denver every week and is working on finding housing. Most of all, Donald has never lost his faith in Christ. “It turns out He’s always been there for me,” he said. “Once again, He’s back in my life pushing me in the right direction. Thank the Lord.”
Written by: Jacob Cain, Denver Food Services Assistant Manager. Jacob is the assistant food service manager at Denver Rescue Mission. He supervises the food service operations at Lawrence Street Community Center and 48th Avenue Center. Jacob is passionate about serving quality meals to guests experiencing homelessness, and one of his favorite aspects of the job is hearing the stories guests share of the lives they have lived.