“We need to go beyond people who are just getting housing” – The Denver VOICE

For the latest episode of INSP’s “Housing for the People” column, Denver VOICE salesman Larmarques “Misha” Smith recounts his journey from temporary housing to stable housing, his experience of shelters throughout the pandemic and how to ensure that housing is a right enjoyed by all must be done in an intersectional way with multiple goals in mind.

By Larmarques ‘Misha’ Smith

In 2010, I did a year of service with Americorps with the Homelessness and Housing Coalition of Kentucky (HHCK) and the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association (KDVA). I learned a bit about homelessness, homelessness and domestic violence. It gave me a new perspective that helped me throughout my experience.

My name came up recently to receive a housing voucher from the Tenant Based Rental Assistance Program. I had taken out housing assistance about three years earlier. Before that, I was housed because of my employer. When I lost my job, I had to face homelessness head-on.

Before closing in March 2020, I mainly slept in one of the two shelters. Usually there were two to three buses taking us to the shelter, which was about 250 people in that space.

Sometimes I had to stay in another shelter. So when they announced they were converting part of the Western Stock Show Complex (which I’ll call the Complex) into this “all-in-one shelter”, for us to stay in during the shutdown, I was relieved that something is finally going to be done.

In the other shelters, we could only spend the night and they woke us up at 5 am. Then we had to leave and wait outside until our buses arrived.

It was nice to be moved into the resort as we didn’t have to leave during the day. We had a small storage space to keep our things. Our belongings weren’t “secured”, but at least we didn’t have to take them every time we left for the day. We could eat all our meals at the Complex. We were able to take showers and a local non-profit organization provided mobile laundry services.

It was fine, for temporary accommodation, but I had just gotten a job as a barista in a coffee shop where I had to arrive early most of the time, so my schedule didn’t fit with the service hours provided by the complex. I couldn’t shower before work because the showers weren’t open, so I had to make sure I always shower the night before. The same with laundry. By the time I had to leave for work, they often wouldn’t accept laundry because the laundry room wasn’t open yet. By the time I got back to the shelter after my shift, I would have already missed dinner and would have to rush to shower in the evening before they shut them down.

We didn’t have to leave the resort during the day so if it was too hot or too cold we could stay. We could also take a nap if we wanted. Before the pandemic, if I wanted to take a nap during the day, I had to go to the Saint Francis Center, one of the day shelters here in Denver, or I would take a ride on the RTD light rail back and forth to what I rested enough for me to function. It was nice for once to be able to sleep during the day in the same bed I had slept in the night before.

When the resort first opened we had an 11pm curfew but over time they moved it to 8pm. It made things difficult because I had to take a bus to and from work. Sometimes I wouldn’t stop working until 7:30 p.m., which meant I didn’t get to the Complex on time. Even though I had a note from work, the shelter wouldn’t let me in, so those nights I had to find another place to sleep.

I don’t think my boss understood what it took to get to work on time. At the Complex, so many of us had to take the bus, and there was only room for a certain number of people. Once we got to where the buses took us, we had to find a way to get to our final destinations.

At one point, I was given a bicycle to help me get to work on time. Shortly after, I contracted COVID and had to tell my boss and co-workers of my diagnosis, then had to self-quarantine at a designated hotel. It was the weekend of July 4, 2020, and I was worried about testing positive for COVID and how it will ultimately affect me. I finished my quarantine and my test came back negative so I was able to go back to work. And since I was immunocompromised, I was able to stay in a hotel specifically for the homeless and immunocompromised for some reason.

Now that I’m in stable housing, I no longer have to worry about being kicked out because I arrived too late or wondering how I’m going to pay my rent.

If we want to talk about housing justice, we need to go beyond people who just get housing. Housing justice means that everyone has the right to be housed; regardless of their race/color, creed or gender. No one should be homeless, and everyone should be able to stay in a place where they feel safe, where they know that if they leave their belongings are safe and will be there when they return. Just a few months ago I was out of safe housing, so I know how different the two experiences are. Many people don’t realize that many of us are one paycheck away from being homeless – they may not be homeless right away, but a loss of income will quickly affect the rest of their lives and that people who live with them.

housing for the people is a column produced by the International Network of Street Journals by people on the front lines of the housing justice movement in America and beyond.

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