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April 10, 2012 08:00 AM UTC

A Homeless Person's St. Patrick's Day

  • by: mandelbrot

I tried to send this to the ACLU but it would not send to the address I have but I know this information will reach many by placing it on this list. The following is a true story of what happened to a very dear homeless friend of mine over the three days that lead up to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and his collapse on the concrete:

Bobby needed a place to rest. Not of the stereotype that most ignorantly believe, Bobby seldom drinks and does not do any drugs. He has a heart condition for which he takes daily medication. He finds the homeless shelters take too big of a tole on his dignity and hates that so many are turned away who are in far worse shape that he, so he normally takes “sleeping out” in stride. But at this time he was very sick, dehydrated from either food poisoning or an intestinal virus. For days he could not hold down food and he grew weaker every hour that passed.

The St. Patrick’s Day parade was routed right passed his most recent sleeping spot, a small patch of boxwoods just off the sidewalk.Due to the “no camping ban” he was not allowed to sleep anywhere on public property. He has no place to lay his head without risking arrest. Three times he tried to rest, three times he got a policeman’s flashlight in his face.

Malnourished and dehydrated from not being able to eat without violent episodes of vomitting and diarrhea, his first attempt to rest concealed behind the dirt and leaves of the boxwoods was interrupted by a thin laser beam shown into his tiny hiding spot. Probably a policeman clearing the parade route of embarrassing signs of the homeless population known to seek shelter in any bush or darkened crevice in the downtown area. Panicked by the laser beam, he had to quickly move on or else risk a fine for violating the no camping ban, which may as well be a jail sentence considering his inability to pay. He was blatantly told he had to move on from his second choice of sleeping spot, a patch of tall weeds and scrub bushes, by a uniformed officer.

He walked the two miles to a park in which he had once or twice found safe shelter behind some trees in a small park. This attempt at sleep too, was made futile, when another policman coldly made him pick up his sleeping bag and twenty pound alice pack which holds all of his life sustaining food supply and gear used for warmth.

By this time it was light out and his strength was exhausted, but he walked another several miles and finally curled up on the concrete beside the VA building. After only an hour of twighlight sleep, he was attempting to make his way back to the downtown area where he usually gets his meals and a place to sit inside off the street. He called me from the spot where he had collapsed from sickness and exhaustion outside Denny’s on Bijou. The only words I remember were, “Lisa, I’m sick!” He gasped out his location, and that is where I found him, barely able to stand under his own power, collapsed on the sidewalk.

When I looked at his face after he was helped into my car, he had tears in his eyes that told me how afraid he was of all the pain throughout his body. But the severe chest pain was the worst.Bobby spent some time in the hospital getting stabilized via medications, rehydrating fluids, and morphine for the pain. He could easily have been pushed into a fatal heart attack by the callousness of this heartless, senseless law that disallows him just a place to lay his head at night.

This, and worse, happens on a nearly daily basis to the homeless in Colorado Springs where there is already a no camping ban in place very similar to the one that is being proposed in Denver. Please do not allow this kind of cruelty and violation of human rights to spread any further. Coloradans already have this mark of shame upon them in Colorado Springs. Denver should not bear it as well.

Is the real concern for public “safety”–or civic cosmetics? Dickensian “Shelters” and virtually punitive ComCor-like “housing” are just a way of sweeping the unsightly poor under the rug.

How does the existence of these unhappy campers effect public safety? On the whole, the homeless are a timid lot, what with their constant dodging of harrassment, and they no more prone to attack Good Citizens than their bedmates the squirrels. As an old-style, bellied, wheel-gun cop once remarked to me, “Nobody’s making trouble when he’s asleep.”


Lisa Ruffin-Smith

Colorado Springs, CO




7 thoughts on “A Homeless Person’s St. Patrick’s Day

  1. We should all be very ashamed of the way our brothers and sisters are treated. I was homeless for a time, never sick or debilitated, but living in a car.

    How would you, Mr. “Don’t tax me ’cause I’m rich”, feel if Bobby were your son?

  2. Thank you for writing this. You are a beautiful writer, and an even more beautiful and compassionate soul. The fact that a country as wealthy as ours does not give a hand-UP and basic health care to people like Bobby is a shameful. Add to that the greedy, selfish, opportunistic people like Rush Limbaugh and the makers of violent video games who have contributed to a culture of violence aimed at our most vulnerable citizens, and I could be sick.

    I met a number of homeless people when I worked at a crisis center, who never touched drugs or alcohol. Depression and/or mental health issues are much more likely factors to why they’re on the streets than drugs (which makes multi-millionaire oxycontin-addict Limbaugh’s hate-speech toward them even more evil). The fact that our culture continues to kick these people when they are down is unconscionable. They are someone’s son, or mother, or sister, or uncle or daughter.  As Ghandi put it when asked about western civilization, “I think that is a great idea”.

    Please write here more often. We all need to be reminded what’s really going on out there. Leather chairs in comfy offices are a great place to hide from reality (sadly). My thoughts and prayers go out to Bobby. I hope he can find some way to get someone to help him so he doesn’t die on the streets.

  3. I am very afraid that Denver will also adopt the kind of anti-camping ordinances that makes life hard for so many people in other Colorado cities.

    We need to fight that ordinance in Denver and repeal similar ordinances in Boulder and Colorado Springs.

    1. Completely agree, Helen. Banishing homeless people does not get rid of the problem of homelessness. It just makes us all the more uncivilized. We need more publicly funded job training, free health care including mental health services and prescriptions, support for halfway houses for the medically fragile, etc. We don’t need more inhumane laws. Imagine how much better every community would be if they provided these services instead of giving tax breaks to the uber-wealthy corporations and sports teams?

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