Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day 13 of Homelessness

DRCOG has met our Homeless Protest with silence so today, we take our protest to DRCOG's doorstep.

At 3pm on Wednesday, September 30, our protest begins out front of the DRCOG offices (1290 Broadway). Everyone is welcome for all or just part of the protest. Bologna sandwiches and coffee will be served. Bring your sign, sleeping bag, tent, tarp, etc if you would like to stay the night with us. Those spending the night will sleep together somewhere near DRCOG.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Day 12 of Homelessness

At right, me and my tent this morning.

Last night, leaves would periodically hit my tent with a foreboding plunk causing sleeplessness. Soon enough, they will all have fallen, my protective canopy gone, and the scarlet H emblazoned on my tent revealed for all to see.

I didn’t hear and missed my homeless neighbor who sings cheerful opera each morning. Reminds me of Joey Tribbiani’s neighbor.

My homeless protest is not about the recession. It is not about funding cuts. It is about one funding cut. A funding cut that was unnecessary, arbitrary and capricious. A funding cut that violates the Older Americans Act, which requires that funding go to those seniors with the greatest needs. A 100% funding cut that was a gross overreaction to the 13% funding cut experienced by DRCOG.

As DRCOG would not do a site visit at Senior Support Services, we are bringing the site visit to them. At 3pm on Wednesday, September 30, our protest out front of DRCOG (1290 Broadway) begins. Everyone is welcome for all or just part of the protest. Bologna sandwiches and coffee will be served. Bring your sign, sleeping bag, tent, tarp, etc if you would like to stay the night with us. Those spending the night will sleep together somewhere near DRCOG.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 10 of Homelessness

Pictured above, me at my favorite campsite this morning.

Last night, I met my friend Randy for dinner and realized something I’ve just been dancing around. By the time I arrived on my bike at the restaurant, he was already out front, having put our name on the list for a table and because it was a mild night. He asked if I’d like to put my backpack in his car -- about a block away -- an offer I eagerly accepted. Due to the stigma attached, I don’t like people looking at me and suspecting I’m homeless. Without my large backpack in tow, I’m just another guy who hasn’t shaved for a while. I’m especially vulnerable to this feeling when I’m heading directly to a campsite, or exiting from it.

I continue to make improvements to my favorite site, am possessive of it, and don’t even like the prospect of strangers visiting it, let alone camping there.

Day 9 of Homelessness

At right, the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers who camped with me on Friday night. They were a bit cold, at times, but it was nice to have the company.

Friday, September 25, 2009

We need your help!

Please contact the Chairman of the Board of DRCOG, Ed Peterson, and urge him to restore funding to Senior Support Services. His email is

Ask him to consider these three questions:

1) Are Older Americans Act funds allocated by Congress to help those seniors with the greatest needs? (It's clear that they are.)

2) Is there any group of seniors in the Denver Metro area who have greater needs than those served by Senior Support? (It's clear there is not.)

3) How is DRCOG serving those seniors with the greatest needs? (It is not. Instead, it is serving seniors who are housed, among other things.)

Senior Support Services should be the first organization funded by DRCOG, not the last.

Thank you for your help!

Day 8 of Homelessness

At left, Ted and Dave shortly before the rain began in earnest.

Last night I met Dave at a drinking establishment around 9:30. He was eating dinner but I had already eaten. Around 11:00, we walked off to make camp but ended up at a completely new campsite with great cover. Shortly after we set up, the rain began, and it seemed to never stop. While the tent protected us from getting soaked, it was a loud, soggy night and neither of us got more than four hours sleep. Not sure exactly why I couldn’t sleep. We arose at 7:30, broke camp, and I biked off to work.

I just put on completely clean clothes for the first time since this began. I’m doing my laundry at work where we have a machine to wash the donated clothing we receive before we give it away. I never thought I’d get such pleasure and feeling of normalcy from laundry.

Tonight, the weather should be much better. I’m camping with a few of the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, one of whom works at Senior Support as a case manager. We're meeting at a restaurant close to the campsite and the prospect of walking in with clean clothes on is comforting, though I’ll still have my backpack, the telltale sign.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day 7 of Homelessness

Pictured at right, me and my tent this morning, and above, the Sword of Damocles.

Though it was cold last night, it was not wet, which was nice. I set up my tent around 10:30pm and read The Scarlet Letter for a while, then slept comfortably until 7:30am. I hung out at my tent in the morning, trying to assess whether the possible sites I could see nearby were good ones, deserving of a try when I have others along and therefore need a larger space.

That’s when I noticed the large branch above my tent, partially broken off in some previous violent wind, suspended vertically, like the Sword of Damocles.

Despite the sword, I kicked the wet, soft dirt for a while in an effort to flatten out the campsite. I heard a voice and felt someone coming toward me, which gave me a pretty good start. Miraculously, my friend Steve, who had never been to this site, but just knew the general area, had found me and brought a hot cup of coffee, manna from heaven.

Guest Blog: The Family Perspective

Ted's brother Will here. As Ted's family, we have gotten a taste of what it's like to have a homeless relative.

I didn't know quite what to expect when Ted announced he was going on this homeless strike. On the one hand I thought it would be fun, a camping experience within the city limits of Denver. On the other hand, I did worry about him being exposed to dangerous situations.

Our mom says, "My feelings alternate between pride, sorrow, and fear. I am so proud that Ted cares so much about his clients and the help Senior Support Services is able to give them. I am sorrowful that Ted has to struggle in the cold and damp to find some place to lie down. I fear the other people out there who might harm him." Ted's sister Sarah said, "When Ted first announced to me his plans to go homeless, my immediate gut reaction was deep concern. As I had time to chew on it, I begin to feel a sense of pride for my brother's sense of conviction. And one thing I knew...he would not give up."

When Ted began this journey, what I did not expect is that I would become so aware of the weather. Now I believe probably nobody in America thinks so much about the weather as a homeless person. I would guess farmers and meteorologists are tied for second and in a very close third come the family members of the homeless. Many of Ted's friends and family, including me, have thought about Ted out in the elements as they are getting into their warm beds. Even people who don't know Ted but have heard about his homeless strike have commented to all of us about having these thoughts.

As Sarah put it the other day, "Homelessness takes on a personal note when you know someone who is sleeping out in the cold, rain or snow. In a show of solidarity, my eight year old son has set up his own homeless shelter in our living room and has finally convinced me to let him spend the night there. I have been amazed and appreciative of the response to Ted's homeless strike. Several people have said they thought of Ted as they snuggled in their warm beds--believe me, so have I. Tonight, as Ted and thousands of other homeless people face their coldest, snowiest night in months, we cannot help but have them on our minds."

The other thing about Ted's homeless strike that I did not expect is what a great physical challenge being homeless has been for him. Ted is a great athlete. He plays rugby, telemarks and mountain bikes in the Colorado Rockies, and has little problem taking long hiking and camping trips away from all the comforts of civilization. Yet homelessness has been physical challenge for him. It did not help that in addition to not getting any sleep he has gotten flu-like symptoms. And the stress of searching for a good and safe place to sleep must be considered part of the physical challenge.

Last Sunday, Ted was planning on coming over to my house to watch the Bronco game. When I spoke to him on his cell phone, he sounded more tired than I ever remember him being. He was too tired to bike to my house and he seemed sick. He sounded terrible, maybe as sick as he has been since he got malaria while in the Peace Corps.

Our mom reports, "Sunday night I talked Ted into coming over for some leftover stir-fry chicken, because I wanted to be sure he had a good meal. He ate very little, for Ted, and looked thoroughly drained. He went upstairs to take a shower. A while later I heard him say he would lie down for a few minutes. Half an hour later I went upstairs to put a cover over him because he was lying on top of the guest bed. He was sound asleep, but was startled and jumped when I put the cover on him. Later I learned that he was actually ill. At 10:30 p.m. I went up to see if he was awake, because I knew he would be very disappointed if he slept through the night. He was hot, even though it was a cool night and his cover was very light. He said he would get up in a minute. Shortly he finished dressing and shouldered a huge, awkward duffle bag, picked up his bike on the front porch and I saw the ghostly play of the bike light as he laboriously pedaled away in the dark."

Our mom summed up our feelings about Ted's homeless experience well by saying, "In the cosmic scheme of things man struggles to find shelter and feed himself and his loved ones. Being homeless is a giant step backward, and the rules don't allow man to build himself a shelter, the most basic human instinct."

The Press Conference Text

What follows is the text of my remarks at the press conference on 9/17. This outlines in more detail the reasons behind my homeless strike:

My name is Ted Pascoe.  I am the executive director of Senior Support Services.  Senior Support is the safety net organization of the hungry and homeless seniors of the Denver Metro area.  As we are the only agency catering to the profound needs of this population, we have a critical role to play in Denver’s Road Home, the plan to end homelessness.  Our seniors -- one-third of whom are veterans -- experience a multitude of challenging problems including abject poverty, poor health, lack of a support system, mental illness, alcoholism, substance abuse, physical infirmities, and self-neglect.  They are the poorest of the poor.
Grantors need grantees as much as grantees need grantors.  Grantees need the financial support of grantors, obviously.  But in order for grantors to fulfill their missions, they need a level of access to the underprivileged that only grantees can provide.  It is a collaboration requiring mutual respect that should always involve give and take on both sides, a relationship where each is first among equals.  Instead, the Denver Regional Council of Governments sees itself as paramount and infallible.
Late last year, Senior Support was informed by the Denver Regional Council of Governments (aka DRCOG) that our reimbursement category, Outreach to Special Populations, was being eliminated.  We struggled to arrive at an appropriate new reimbursement category.  We would suggest a category and DRCOG would say, “If you want.”  This was not helpful.  Finally, it was mutually agreed we should seek funding to provide case management services in the coming program year.
In February, DRCOG issued a request for proposals identifying the various reimbursement categories for the coming program year.  These categories included nutrition, case management services, screening and evaluation, transportation and in-home services, among others.  After all the proposals had been submitted, DRCOG’s funding was cut by 13%.  DRCOG reacted by limiting its funding priorities to nutrition, in-home services and transportation.  Since Senior Support had applied to do case management services, this automatically put us at a terrible disadvantage.  DRCOG claims it is within its right to change funding priorities after proposals have been submitted.  Just because you can doesn’t mean you should, especially if it means shutting out homeless seniors.
We were notified in May that DRCOG would not be funding Senior Support as of July 1st of this year.  As we have had a successful collaboration with DRCOG for 25 years, this was a complete surprise and represents a loss of 15% of our revenue.  In these tough economic times and because we do not benefit from multi-year grants or fee-for-service contracts, it is going to be next to impossible for us to make up a $75,000 deficit in a $500,000 budget.  As we already stretch the dollar as far as it can be stretched and our 5 fulltime employees are already overextended managing up to 200 seniors per day, this cut will be extremely painful.  We will be forced to layoff staff, cut programs and reduce the hours we are open. 
In its denial of our formal appeal, DRCOG claims we were out of compliance with their new, online invoicing system.  It cannot be overstated that we did not know we were out of compliance.  We did not know DRCOG had not received our invoices via the online reporting system.  We thought we had submitted them each and every month, we thought DRCOG had received them, and we thought we were in full compliance.  As there is no mechanism informing us that we have successfully submitted an invoice, there was no reason for us to suspect we had not successfully submitted them.  For instance, there is no automatically generated email that informs the grantee an invoice has been received and is being processed.  Throughout this period we contacted DRCOG to find out whether we were in compliance but were never told we were not.  When we finally found out DRCOG had not received the electronic invoices, we immediately corrected the problem.  I believe all of this could have been prevented if the program officer at DRCOG had been willing to sit down with our new employee, train her on the use of these new systems, and explain how they are designed to work and interact.
DRCOG faults us for providing a brief description of what the funds would be used for even though the online application literally asks for a “Brief Description”.  If DRCOG had wanted something besides a brief description, it should have used different language.  The previous year’s application was extremely thin; it didn’t ask for a description of any kind, let alone a brief one.  This makes it doubly ironic that suddenly the description is a controlling factor.  What’s more, the only reason we were asked for a description at all is because grantees had recently asked to be asked that question.  How is it that after a successful 25-year collaboration, the answer to one poorly asked question is allowed to help end the collaboration?  The next time DRCOG asks me for a brief description, you can believe I will provide a lengthy one.
If Senior Support is guilty of failing to properly use the new online application and the new online reporting systems both of which were under development throughout the period in question, I take full responsibility -- and I could not be sorrier.
No current employee of DRCOG has ever done a site visit at Senior Support.  Nor did DRCOG request an annual report or an operating budget.  A site visit would reveal that we serve the seniors of the metro area with the greatest needs.  A review of our annual report and operating budget would demonstrate how critical a $75,000 program is to our continued success, and by extension the success of Denver’s Road Home.  How can you end a successful 25-year collaboration without learning a little more about the affected organization, without bothering to do a site visit?
These funds administered by DRCOG are Older Americans Act funds.  Entities that distribute Older Americans Act funds are required by Congress to target those seniors with the greatest economic need, the greatest social need, minorities and the frailest.  With this in mind, let me be very clear.  We are not asking for special favors.  It is not a special favor to fund a nonprofit that serves the seniors of the region with the greatest social need, that serves the seniors with the greatest economic need, that serves the seniors who are the frailest both physically and mentally, and that serves a population rich in ethnic diversity.  DRCOG cannot identify a group of seniors that has greater needs than those served by Senior Support.  To the contrary, any reasonable person following DRCOG’s own promulgated guidelines would have no choice but to fund our organization.  Senior Support should be the first organization funded by DRCOG, not the last.  Failure to fund our organization is tantamount to sacrificing the poorest of the poor in violation of Congress’ charge to DRCOG to serve those with the greatest needs.
DRCOG will tell you that it serves seniors with “great” social and economic needs but the operating word here is “greatest”.  The clients of Senior Support have the greatest needs of any group of seniors.  Eighty-seven percent of our clients live at or below the federal poverty threshold, 70% are mentally ill, 70% have an alcohol or drug problem, 57% are minorities, 50% are frail or disabled, and 34% are veterans.  At any one time, 40% are homeless but 60% have been homeless in the past two years.  These are the most compelling reasons why funding should be restored to our organization.
When DRCOG experienced a 13% funding cut, what it could have done, what it should have done was reduce each grant award by 13%.  This would have been a simpler and more equitable solution, manageable to everyone.  Instead, it cut our funding by 100%.  We understand that times are tough but that is no reason why homeless seniors should bear the brunt of the budget cuts, why homeless seniors should bear the full weight of the economic downturn.
It is difficult to articulate the depth of our outrage – so I will demonstrate it.  To call attention to the plight of the homeless seniors we serve, I am rendering myself homeless until the Denver Regional Council of Governments restores funding to Senior Support Services.  Until such time, this backpack, a duffle bag and a bicycle represent my worldly possessions.  As 90% of our clients do not have cars, I will not use mine.  I will not even visit my condo let alone sleep there.  Instead, like so many of our clients, I will be sleeping somewhere outside, on public property. 
We implore DRCOG to restore our funding.  Restore it because we serve those with the greatest social need, those with the greatest economic need.  Restore it because Congress requires it.  Restore it because it is the right thing to do.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day 6 of Homelessness

At right, me in my tent not long before calling it a day.

Last night, I arrived at the campsite around 10pm, set up my tent -- just before the rain started fortunately -- did some reading as it rained for a while, then went to sleep and slept pretty well. It didn’t rain much the rest of the night and I was pretty comfortable and got some sleep.

This morning, I attended a session on how to apply for funding from the Mile High United Way. The training was straight forward, and well organized and presented. Their request for proposals is professionally laid out, clear, and explicit about what they are looking for in each question. Throughout the document, they reference sections of the instructions to help the applicant provide the desired information. They are to be commended and DRCOG could certainly benefit from reading through these materials and emulating them.

Congress allocates Older Americans Act funds for the specific purpose of serving those seniors with the greatest needs. In the Denver area, DRCOG is the agency that distributes and administers Older Americans Act funds but it failed to distribute any to Senior Support Services (the one organization that serves the seniors with the greatest needs). For this reason, I have contacted U.S. Representative Diana DeGette’s office in the hopes that she will take an interest in this issue.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Day 5 of Homelessness

Pictured at left is my camping gear drying out in my office after last night.

Last night, I arrived at the camp area around 10:30pm but couldn’t find my exact campsite from the night before. There are a lot of very thick bushes and a number of tight entrances, all of which look similar. Once you get down into it, it’s very hard to move laterally because of the terrain and the trees and bushes. Of course, one of the reasons it’s such a good site is because of the thick cover. After leaving and entering the area a number of times in search of my desired spot, and trying to avoid all the cars driving by, I finally decided to stay in a new campsite. This darting in and out of the bushes was amazingly stressful. I’m sure I was overly paranoid that I’d be seen but just wanted to avoid hassles at all costs.

Today, we continued to notify our supporters about the homeless protest, and my health is improving.

Tonight should be interesting as the forecast is for possible flurries and a low of 41 degrees. I’ll return to the same spot as last night, as it was a pretty good one, set up my tent and hunker down for the night.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunday and Monday

9/21/09 – I contacted Mayor Hickenlooper’s office to request a meeting with him to discuss the funding cut and they have agreed to set it up. This makes sense because the Mayor founded Denver’s Road Home (the ten year plan to end homelessness) and is a board member of DRCOG.

I also requested a meeting with the Chair of the Board of DRCOG, Ed Peterson, and asked him to consider the following three questions:

1) Are Older Americans Act funds for those seniors with the greatest needs? (It's clear that they are.)

2) Is there any group of seniors in the Denver Metro area who have greater needs than those served by Senior Support? (It's clear there is not.)

3) How is DRCOG serving those seniors with the greatest needs? (It is not. Instead, it is serving seniors who are housed, among other things.)

Senior Support Services should be the first organization funded by DRCOG, not the last.

Yesterday, I was sick, exhausted, had a bad headache for most of the day, and the chills. I slept a lot during the day, which is common for our clients. Today I’m feeling better and getting some energy back.

I didn’t set up my tent last night as I didn’t feel I would need it when I arrived at the campsite around 11pm. Even though I was alone, I wasn't too nervous because this site offers a lot of cover. It was a lot warmer than I thought it would be, the rain didn’t start until early in the morning and it was only a drizzle. But I think tonight might be a different story.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The First Nights

The photos above were taken at our campsites on nights one and two.

9/17/09 -- I awakened this morning at 4am, highly anxious, feeling disconnected from the world, alienated, as if all ties to mankind had been cut -- yet I was still in my own bed. It was a surreal feeling, like I was already an outsider, someone who could observe from a distance but not participate in society. Imagine being incapable of caring about politics, the Rockies, Broncos, going mountain biking, or doing whatever you love.

I resolved that my bike would have to be one of my worldly possessions, that I needed the flexibility it would provide in order for this to work. I have a meeting on the 18th, for instance, that I have to attend.

As he had a class until late, I didn’t meet Dave until 10pm on the night of the 17th at a longtime Denver drinking establishment. He had a few beers but I had already had two so I figured I’d reached my limit for my first night of urban camping. It was sort of a celebration that the beginning had finally come. He had done some research on potential campsites and, as I was exhausted, I was eager to be the beneficiary.

Around midnight, he led me down a non-path at the first potential site and through some bushes and said, “Here it is,” yet all I saw was a thicket of bushes. He was proposing we sleep in and on the bushes. While I agreed no one would ever be able to see us in there, I also felt I would never get any sleep, and that seemed to merit consideration. But I didn’t say anything, as affable Dave was leading a tour that had just begun.

Site 2 was much better, at least in my mind. It was grassy, flat and there was some protection from a building and a few trees. Dave didn’t like it because it didn’t provide enough cover. “Not enough cover” became his refrain for the evening. He didn’t even want helicopters to be able to see us. We joked later that this was the first disagreement we’d ever had.

Site 3 was the Highline canal. The choices were either to sleep in the dirt in the canal or proceed up the embankment to very high grass, with lots of large, hidden holes and very uneven ground. It was about this time that I wondered – not for the last time that night -- who thought up this idiotic idea.

We decided on Site 2, and finally bedded down at 2am, with what little cover there was under a low-hanging pine tree. At 5:30am, the sprinklers came on, woke and soaked us. Royal pain. My headlamp had been on my backpack, and in the rush to get our stuff to a dry area, it fell off. As this was my only light, we had to stick around for an hour waiting for it to get light enough so we could spot it.

9/18/09 -- After we got some breakfast, I biked to work. I was tired but still managed to get a few things done. I had a meeting with Senator Bennet about another matter but he was intrigued by the homeless protest, and said he’d make a few phone calls.

Steve and Naomi kindly had me over for dinner and drinks, and then Steve and I headed out with our bikes and packs around 11pm to find a campsite. I had done some scouting before so we found a place fairly quickly. There was plenty of cover and it was relatively flat but not so flat that I didn’t slide down my pad and off the tarp causing cold feet. This was a very humid location (or night), but everything else about the site was great.

9/19/09 – We slept until 7:30am somehow, headed back to his house for coffee, then went on a bike ride with his son to scout out better campsites. We found two that are arguably better, and dryer.

That night, I met up with Steve again and also Garrett and then went to one of the sites we’d scouted out. It was relatively dry, a good spot, the only problem being there was a fairly bright light illuminating it, though it was a ways away. Being under a street light is not ideal. It is the opposite of “cover” though I think we all slept fairly well.

9/20/09 – I stopped at a coffee shop on my way back to Senior Support where I ran into someone I know who is involved in homelessness, and has been supportive of our organization. She looked at my backpack and thought I had just come back from the mountains or something. I explained what I was doing and she was glad to hear social activism is still alive but the fact that she didn’t know about it is an indication we need to do a better job getting the word out, at the very least to our own supporters.

I was so tired I had to take a nap on the floor. There’s something exhausting about lugging your junk around with you wherever you go, and always wondering where you’ll be that night. As each day wears on, I find myself getting nervous about this very thing. That and fatigue prevent me from being able to concentrate and get things done.

Juan, one of our employees who is on parole, was very moved by our homeless protest and volunteered to be a full participant. Unfortunately, his parole officer said no, so I don’t have a companion for tonight and will be alone for the first time. It’s getting colder and the forecast is for rain. There’s a reluctance to set up tents as they draw attention but I think I’ll set up mine tonight -- for the first time since this protest began -- so I’ll be out of the rain and warmer.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


8/25/09: I don’t want my mother to know that even I think this one’s crazy.  Where am I going to sleep, and will I feel safe and secure enough to get any sleep?  Where will I bathe?  Where will I access clean water, and where will I crap?  These are my major worries.  If I could scout out an acceptable, secure place where I might feel relatively free from getting harassed by the police or by late night partiers or by the homeless or by drug dealers or by thugs, then I might be less nervous.  But you have to figure that these few great “camping” places have been staked and claimed already, and that if I plop down in one of them, I’ll have a turf battle on my hands.  I could hang out with some of our clients but many of them are terrible alcoholics, or drug users and still others we suspect are dealers.  Don’t really want to deal with any of that at 3 AM, and certainly don’t want to be arrested for something worse than vagrancy. 

8/31/09: Thank God Erace Homelessness is successfully behind us. It is an exhausting undertaking but we had a record turnout so we’re happy about that. Now we have to get back to the DRCOG problem.

9/1/09: I have to keep reminding myself that I’m going to be the scary guy. It was a great relief to come up with a park I know well as a possible place to sleep, at least on my first night as a homeless person. I spent a lot of time there as a kid, it’s a manageable size in a nice neighborhood, and there are some bushes clustered together that should offer some cover, at least they did back then. I’ll have to go scout it out.

9/3/09: I got over to the park. There is in fact a perfect collection of bushes providing lots of cover and inside them is a perfect place to sleep the size of one person. There were several beer bottles, a vodka bottle and some pants left where there was supposed to have been a completely undiscovered crash pad. It might be a little too small and a little too popular for my comfort.

9/16/09: Last night in my condo. It’s a surreal feeling that I’ve garaged my car where it will stay, I’ll be using my bed for the last time tonight, my shower for the last time tomorrow morning, that I’ll be shuttering and leaving my place tomorrow morning not to return until our DRCOG funding is restored. Our formal homeless protest, our “homeless strike” begins. I’ve been thinking and worrying about this for a month now so it’s a relief that it’s finally beginning because it won’t be over until it begins.

9/17/09: The big day. I made my announcement this morning. Tonight I will be homeless.