Sat here on a picnic table by Lake Stanley ID, with Mt McGowan of the Sawtooth Mountains reflecting on the lake. While I’ve been here, I’ve had conversations with Candy who cleans the campgrounds, and Deedee and Danny, snowbirds from AZ.
The reflections on the lake have now been disturbed by the launch of boats for fishing and paddleboards for fun. But I got my money shot first. The scenery also puts me in a reflective mood.
I’ve been away from Colorado for a week now and, looking back, I can reflect on conversations in two areas: homelessness and climate change.
Denver is like other major American cities – the homeless are ubiquitous on the streets. This is no different from European cities, or my local turf in Glasgow and London. Going back to the 1980s, the closure of long-stay mental institutions and the failure of ‘care in the community’ really surfaced this problem. Folk are in the community, but without the care.
The economy further exacerbates things. You’ve probably seen or read Nomadland. The homeless – or ‘houseless’ – I met on the streets of Denver are modern American nomads. I had conversations with: a group of men living on a street corner near a gentrified area of Denver; a group of people who I thought were waiting for the bus in a shelter, but actually lived there or thereabouts – they hit me for a round at the local McDonald’s, which I was glad to provide; and with Marshall, who lives on a street in Denver.
Marshall was interesting and interested. He shared his problems with addiction, with not being able to hold down a job, so not able to get accommodation. Yet he retained a positive outlook on life. Marshall has a case worker and has hopes for a better life. Nobody had previously stopped to meet with him and listen to what he had to say.
I also met with Ryan, who manages a settlement established by Colorado Village Communities (CVC), providing accommodation and structure to help folk get off the streets. CVC is a great example of putting effort into civic society, rather than – as I heard in some conversations – blaming the homeless for their own predicament.
I also heard an interesting perspective from the homeless gentlemen on the street corner in Denver. They felt that it’s all about the money – organisations get money to provide services to the homeless, and they themselves (as the homeless) are needed in order for these organisations to get money and fulfil their raison d’etre. Hence, they felt that they were being made dependent on civic society.
I’ve read this counter-intuitive argument before. John McKnight in his 1995 book, Careless Society, states:
“As institutions gain power, communities lose their potency and the consent of community is replaced by control of systems; the care of community is replaced by the service of systems; the citizens of community are replaced by the clients and consumers of institutional products.”
I’ll see if there is evidence of this as I travel the US.
I visited the site of the Marshall Fire outside Boulder CO, where a strong wind whipped up a prairie fire that destroyed whole suburbs outside the city. Imagine a Truman Show-type estate that is razed to the ground in minutes. While visiting the site of the devastation, I met Rocky, who had escaped just before the flames destroyed his house. I also witnessed a demonstration by residents and climate activists of www.350Colorado.org calling for more effective state and federal effort to fight climate change.
Yet not everyone I’ve met agrees that the climate is changing for the worst. I was presented with detailed facts and figures to refute the arguments of experts that the world is warming. I admit that I was bamboozled. Had I not experienced events over the years and read about climate change – COP26 was in Glasgow last year – I could easily have agreed with the arguments put to me.
Again, I’ll see if this was an outlier perspective as I travel, or one that others share.
Now onto McCall to visit friends from my USFS forest fire fighting days – the smoke from fires frames the horizon as I approach. I don’t recall this scene 50 years ago, and it seems the frequency and intensity of fires has increased. Climate change?