I don't know what your immediate thoughts are when I say the word "homeless". I don't know what you feel when someone brushes past you while "Spanging". I don't know what you say when the politics and logistics of our fellow human beings sleeping on the streets is brought up in a rhetorical or heated conversation. Although I can tell you what I do know. I do know that I am learning more about the homeless and the gentrification of Denver.
I fumbled with my cash and eventually found myself in a seat on RTD's L line to Longmont from Denver. It was Saturday, and my options to get 60 miles north were extremely limited. I had gone out around Denver the night before and stayed at a friends house. The L line is not a popular activity for the weekend in Colorado as you can imagine. Trying to get 60 miles north by bus is also not a go to weekend activity in Colorado either, but somehow by chance I met Jean.
Jean was speaking aloud to himself and to whoever would give him the time of day as he found his way into the seat across from me. Initially I wasn't sure exactly what he was complaining about, but slowly I gained interest as it was about the flood of people coming to Colorado. Jean and I then talked about Colorado History and Rail lines (Check out his hat. He is a big fan of trains), and about the changes occurring over the past few years within the state. Finally though the conversation tilted in the direction that brought me to take these photos, and that was about how and why Jean was homeless.
Jean told me how he worked hard and tried to find full time jobs anywhere and all the time, but it was difficult for him as he grew older and also the labor market bulged with the influx of people. He also told me about how he was pushed further and further out of the city and into areas that were not hiding because it wasn't affordable to live near work any longer. Jean was unfortunately made homeless because of the influx of people who could afford to live near the highly employable areas. Jean was also then made homeless because of his kindness to bring a heroin addict in off the streets during a storm. A heroin addict that then squatted upon Jean's property. Jean asked him to leave and the young homeless heroin addict refused to leave. Because of this conflict neighbors became involved and Jean was pushed out to the streets yet again. Unable to catch up with the losses he has had since then it has been nearly impossible for Jean to get a roof over his head. He wants to work, and he has a problem with those asking for spare change (spanging) and those that are too aggressive with him and try to steal his belongings. He has a passion too for trains, and attempts to chase that passion as often as possible. Jean creates small steam engine trains that are fully operable and made of various metals and steels. With the small amount of money he does have he pays for a storage unit to house the intricate and very detailed miniature trains. He one day hopes to have enough land to run the tiny trains on tiny tracks. I too hope he has enough land one day.
I don't know what you think of all this. I do know that I was truly amazed by Jean. This conversation was so insightful and so enlightening to me. I once again was reminded to follow the cliche of not judging a book by its cover. Everyone has a story. Jean left the bus in the same fashion of getting on it. He rambled to himself and to anyone that would hear him. As he disappeared down the stairs he yelled back, "It was nice to talk to you." and that was it. He didn't want anything else from me but conversation. No money, no food. That wasn't like Jean to ask for help. Jean was not the stereotypical homeless. Stereotypes suck.