Homeless Raise Cry for Tent City

About 100 demonstrate in Denver

By Mike McPhee
Denver Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

A small but vocal group of homeless citizens continued to push for a tent city Monday by rallying with loudspeakers on the steps of city hall.

"I'm here to ask the mayor, the City Council and the citizens of Denver: Why not a tent city?" said John McDermott, one of the leaders of a movement to establish a tent city somewhere in Denver to house the homeless. A number of the city's temporary shelters will close April 15, so the homeless are trying to establish the tent city before then.

"In a tent city, we could get up at 3:30 a.m. and go to a labor pool. But in the shelters, you can't. The shelters keep us homeless with their rules. They make a living by keeping us homeless," he said to a crowd of about 100 people, about two-thirds of them homeless.

The city's Emergency Shelter/People Living in Public Places subcommittee of the Mayor's Commission on the Homeless plans to announce three possible locations for temporary shelters at its meeting this afternoon, said Debbie Ortega, executive director of the commission. One is downtown, one is in northwest Denver and the third "is still up in the air," she said.

Ortega declined to discuss the commission's view of a tent city.

At the rally, Randy and Dottie Sloan spoke about the travails of being homeless for the past six months. Dottie recently spent six days in jail for trespassing by sleeping in the parking garage of a hospital. The couple has been sleeping in the visitors lounge of a hospital the past week or so, posing as relatives of a patient.

"Whenever there's a disaster, there are shelters put up immediately," said Dottie, 50. "There are 10,000 homeless in Denver. Isn't that a disaster?

"There are city parks for pets now but it's illegal for us to go into them," she said to applause from the small, noontime crowd.

Her husband, Randy, 43, said he was working on a horse ranch in Parker six months ago when he suffered his third heart attack. He said the ranch owners had housed them in a small trailer with no heat and no water and paid them a total of $165 per week.

"I saved the life of their $20,000 animal and had a heart attack doing it," Randy said. "When I got back from the hospital, they fired me."

He said he suffered his fourth heart attack Nov. 25 while staying at the Samaritan House.

Dottie said she has applied for 12 jobs in the past three weeks at hospitals, hotels, fast-food restaurants and retail stores.

"As soon as they see your address is the mission, they tell you no. If you're not bilingual, the fast-food places don't want you," she said.