DENVER (CBS4) – In a grassy area, tucked into a grove of trees within view of Pena Blvd., several homeless encampments have sprung up far from any infrastructure or homeless services.
“A lot of us just like the freedom of being out in nature,” said Chris Pence, 33, who said he chooses to sleep outside because he can’t go to the shelters. “It’s quiet. It’s more peaceful. You go Downtown and you never know what you’re going to end up in. I’m not dissing Downtown, but I mean, it’s really harsh down there sometimes.”
Chris said that he stopped by the encampment along Pena to visit with some friends. Usually, he said that he sleeps in his sleeping bag along Peoria Street. He described a community that shares the few resources they have.
“I’ve got a lot of good friends. There’s a lot of good people on the streets. A lot of us care for each other, and watch out for each other,” Chris told CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass.
Chris said that he relies on dumpster diving to provide him with most of his meals. He said he has mental health issues and constantly drinks. As he was talking to CBS4 in the middle of the day, he took swigs from a vodka – based concoction.
“I’ve found full course meals in the dumpster. Go check out a Pizza Hut after 12 o’clock at night, there’s a pizza laying in there because someone didn’t pick it up or something,” Chris explained.
Chris said that he’s a Colorado native, born in Pueblo and once lived with a wife and four kids on the Western Slope. He said he’s been homeless in Denver for nearly 3-years.
“Drugs and alcohol, man, those are my demons. I’m self-medicating most of the time. I have severe anxiety disorder. I have PTSD. They diagnosed me with everything except the hardship of losing my kids,” Chris said.
Adam Marhefky, 36, was also out at the encampment working on repairing and restoring a bike. He said that’s how he makes money right now along with various odd jobs. Adam said that drug use and other issues forced him to also leave his four children behind in Pennsylvania. He said that he moved to Denver 4-years ago.
“A bucket list for me was to buy weed out of a store, you know, because I smoked my whole life,” Adam told CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass, as he explained one of the reasons he chose to come to Colorado. He said he smokes pot every day.
He described the encampment along Pena Blvd. as both good and bad. He called it too open and close to the road, but said it’s strategically located.
“This is the end of Aurora, the beginning of Denver, and this is the end of airport property. So someone would have to complain to the airport. The airport has to call Denver or Aurora and then they play “whose desk is it on” for a while, and by then we get our stuff straight or get a visit,” Adam explained.
The encampment is strewn with bags full of trash, loose trash, personal items, bicycles and bicycle parts. Flies buzz around open trash bags. Half a dozen tents are set up, as well as some tarp enclosures. No one had a guess at how many people live there, but Adam indicated that people were starting to move away from this spot.
“Good spots are hard to find, and then when you find a good spot everybody kind of congregates to it and it kind of gets blown up,” Adam said.
He pointed out another homeless encampment, on a berm a few hundred yards away that he said is called”homeless hill”. It overlooks the A line tracks.
Adam said that he goes out at night to forage for food at the nearby hotels, and also finds a lot of discarded marijuana along the side of the road. He showed a jar full of marijuana buds, he said was discarded by visitors to Denver who can’t take their marijuana home with them, aid discard it before they head to the airport.
“I find a lot on the ground, believe it or not. I ride out towards the airport, and roughly, by the time I get halfway there, I have a jar full. And, I come back and keep what I need and disperse the rest to everybody else. It’s not like I sell it. I give it away. I found it… easy come, easy go,” Adam explained.
Adam indicated he’s set up a new spot even closer to DIA and farther away from Downtown. He said he’s been living outside since shortly after he moved to Denver 4-years ago. He said the lifestyle is hard and is beginning to wear on him, but he said he doesn’t have the means to afford living in a house in Denver. He said he had four dollars in his pocket.
“We tried to do the jobs. She was working and I was working and we were never seeing each other, and we still couldn’t make ends meet. To us, it wasn’t worth having a warm place with no furniture and no food in it,” Adam explained.