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Denver Voice gives homeless a chance

6:51 PM, May 29, 2011   |    comments
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"I don't like telling people where I'm staying, but what else can I say? I've got to tell the truth," he says. The nightly lottery for beds at the Denver Rescue Mission's Lawrence Street Shelter is about to begin.

"There are no ifs, buts, or maybes about this. I have nowhere else to go," says Atencio.

"We work with a population that doesn't necessarily have a voice," says Gretchen Crowe. Crowe is the vendor program director for a paper that's known as the Denver Voice. Now in the fifth year of its "rebirth," the paper relies on hundreds of homeless vendors to distribute the monthly edition. One of those vendors is about to find out if he'll have a place to stay on this chilly night.

Atencio started distributing the Voice late last year after he lost his job - and his place to stay - working in apartment maintenance.

"This is the first time in my life that I have ever been homeless," he says.

Last year, nearly 670 vendors helped distribute more than 175,000 copies of the paper. Collectively, the people who run the Denver Voice figure the program put an extra $350,000 in the pockets of people who could really use the cash.

The premise is simple. Once someone decides he or she wants to vend the Voice, he or she is given ten free copies. They then hand out the paper for a suggested donation of $1.00. After those copies are distributed, the vendor can return to the Voice and buy papers at 25 cents a copy.

Four copies for one dollar, eight copies for two, and so on and so on. Those four copies can then turn into four dollars, the eight copies can turn into eight dollars, and so on and so on.
John Alexander is a vendor and a fixture on the Auraria Campus near the Colfax light rail station. He's now turned into the kind of guy who seemingly can't go a minute without receiving a hug from someone in the area.

His story is considered one of the program's success stories. He used the job to help him kick a bad drug habit and is now no longer considered homeless.
He's also well-versed in the highly orchestrated moves people frequently make around the homeless.

"A lot of 'em keep their headphones on and pretend the music is on. Sometimes they'll act like they're on the phone," he says. It doesn't bother him anymore.

But it still bothers Atencio quite a bit.

"Someone the other day told me to go and get a job. As far as I'm concerned (working for the Voice) is a job," he said.
He has no plans to quit however. Not now. He says he's starting to make decent money and hopes to find an apartment soon. He's still looking for a higher paying job, of course.

"For a person my age," he says, "no one really wants to hire. They all want younger people," he said.
He credits the Voice for giving him a chance, and maybe a bit of a chance to find his own voice if you will.

"You have to do what you have to do in order to survive," he says.

On this night, he gets lucky. On the list of names outside the shelter, his name is shaded over. It means he'll get a bed for the night.

Tomorrow he'll be back on his corner of the 16th Street Mall near the Denver Visitor's Bureau. That's where he distributes the Voice.

For more on the program (and vendor profiles) go to: http://www.denvervoice.org/

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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