Last Tuesday, I went for a ride with James Fry, executive director of Mean Street Ministry, whose faith-based outreach program visits hotels along Colfax Avenue. Volunteers from various churches filled two vans, hitting the north and south sides of Colfax.
Our first stop was the Aristocrat, an old hotel that now houses the homeless (very temporarily) as they are released from Denver General Hospital. These people have a short amount of time (typically 2-8 days) to try to recover and find shelter.
As our van pulled up, the masses lined up to get burritos, some sweets, and a very small ration of bus tokens. MSM also passed out bibles, a few toys and some plastic Easter eggs for the children. But the main mission was to offer a friendly face and some emotional support.
We broke off into groups of three, with baskets of burritos and donuts, and started knocking on doors. I was with Ebony and Craig, two very out-going volunteers that got people smiling and laughing in very short order. The saddest part of this visit was speaking with an older woman named Bonnie that claimed she had been raped and evicted with no real notice and was now scrambling to find a place to stay.
From the Aristocrat, we headed back west and stopped at the Mesa. Here, the people were more familiar to MSM, those that had been hanging on. Most of their income went to the rent, but James had known some of these people as long as eight years (about when he first started Mean Street Ministry).
I met a man in his late forties, in wheelchair, that had been run over by a truck back when he was 18. His legs were like sticks and some of his fingers were missing. Twice he had received help from MSM to allow him to stay at the Mesa, but money was running out again and he was scared. "I can't live out on the streets again. They beat me up. They take everything I've got."
We talked him through the anxiety and assured him that MSM would try to help him again. We took down an order for a food box that MSM would deliver to him that Thursday. One of many...
Before we left, James held a vigil for two people that had lived there for quite some time and had recently died. One was on his way to the liquor store and was held up for $4, but he wouldn't surrender his money, and so he was shot. But then he got up and made it to the store, bleeding all over the counter. James celebrated his life with a circle of volunteers and a few of the departed's friends.
"It's really not about the stuff we bring" said a volunteer named Dave. MSM is just trying to reach out to these people to offer some comfort and cheer.
Approximately 320 burritos are prepared each week for the trips. MSM hits east Colfax on Monday nights and west Colfax on Tuesday nights (6PM departure). As one of those coming from the religion of no religion, I felt quite at home joining this group. If you'd like to get involved, visit MSM's web site.