Darren enters the room an imposing figure. At 6’6” he’s known as ‘Tree’. “Cuz I’m strong as an oak, I’d like to think.” He was born in Denver in 1962, graduated from high school in Federal Heights in 1980, and moved to Loveland in 2011. “I’m a native (Coloradoan).” And, like natives everywhere in the 80s, the availability of drugs and alcohol was prevalent. “I got into drugs at thirteen, first with pot, then alcohol – the real gateway drug – and then coke. I lost my mom at a young age. I did pretty good up until then, just dabbled in some things. But when she died I realized that she just worked her whole life, and had kids. She never had any fun. I said, ‘I’m gonna have some fun’.”
Things went well, for a while. “I had a house. I even paid off the house. I had cars. I had everything. But we sold the house and spent all the money. Every time I get money it gets me into trouble.” He worked various jobs, but nothing really stuck. “I’ve done a little bit of everything. I just don’t keep a job very long sometimes. I get antsy and something happens.” His last job was with GSI (Gallegos Sanitation, Inc.), but he got fired for drinking in a field after work, when he was informed that the field was part of GSI. “I thought we were off company property.” He’s been living on the streets of Fort Collins and Loveland since 2013, but he prefers Loveland. “I love Loveland. It’s got a way of holding on to you.”
So now Darren works at Labor Ready and does odd jobs. “I work on cars, mow yards, cut trees…” He uses the services at the 137 Shelter and enjoys helping out there. He’s a fan of the Community Kitchen and other places that offer food to the homeless, such as Front Porch Ministries and Disciples Ministries. “They take good care of their homeless here. You won’t starve.” He’s gotten to know most of the people living on the streets in Loveland, known among many of its members as “the community.” But not everyone gets along. “A lot of the homeless people, they don’t want to work. They just want to get that (disability) check and be happy. A few of them are getting off the street, but it takes them years to do it.”
When asked about drug use among the homeless, “Opioids are everywhere. I don’t know anything about that… There’s a few bad apples. Some don’t want to answer to anybody, just stay up and steal to support their drug habits. But there’s a lot of good people too, that are homeless. We’re not all druggies. We’re not all drunks.”
When asked about the police, “If they would just leave you alone we’d be all right. But they’ve really changed the situation around here, lately. Taking out the benches and everything,” referring to the removal of pocket park benches downtown that were most often used by homeless people during the day. Many homeless feel that the attitude has changed since hard drugs have become more prevalent across the country. Here in Loveland, attitudes have also become more acute as the city pursues its major downtown development project known as The Foundry. Tensions seem on the rise.
But Darren has found his way off sleeping on the streets as of late, and stays with a girlfriend who was able to get an apartment after qualifying for a housing voucher. He attends a small church service and tends to his own affairs, not seeking any assistance from the government. “I don’t get a check or food stamps or any of that. I’d be embarrassed.” But he does have a quick answer when asked what would benefit the homeless community most in Loveland. “A place where people can get a good night’s sleep and take a shower.” Something most of us take for granted.