Upon first glance, the 16th Street mall seems bustling with promising activity. People eating, shopping, walking, talking – all enjoying this place nestled in the heart of Denver’s downtown.
However, a second glance brings to light the more glaring truth. People are scurrying through the mall, pushing on to other destinations. The lingering ones are the homeless, the street musicians, the hawkers, and the occasional street preacher.
A recent survey completed by The Denver Post asked the question, “Why aren’t people hanging out at the 16th Street mall?” This place should be a hub of Denver, a place of happenings, thriving businesses, and a good time. Yet, this isn’t the way it is.
One could cite several reasons for the lack of appeal of the Mall, but the biggest, overall issue is the population of homeless people. Simply walking down the street for merely one city block incurs multiple requests for cash. I was asked more than once by the same individual. The numbers have grown exponentially in the last 6 months alone.
Denver offers many services to the downtrodden, but it isn’t enough just to feed a person or give them a coat. Leviticus 25, verse 35, says, “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you.” (NKJV) When God gave Israel the law, He made provisions for the poor and gave specific instructions for they should be treated. In Denver, we need to have better options for our poor, like drug rehabilitation and job skills classes. For instance, a mission in Colorado Springs offers cooking classes. A certified chef teaches homeless men and women to cook, gives them a certificate of completion, and aids them in finding jobs in food service. Also, we must provide people access to affordable housing. Salt Lake City simply built all the homeless people their own houses. Nothing restores dignity to a fellow human being like a roof over their head. The Denver Rescue Mission can only sustain about 315 people per night at their Lawrence Street location. That’s not enough space to house everyone during winter.
If we want to eat our lunch in peace, shop at our stores without being asked the ever persistent question, “Can you spare some change?”, and see our city improve, we need to engage in a long term solution for the people who need it. It is our responsibility to work for the good of our town. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” We must be Christ’s helping hands.
At a recent safety meeting at my job, sponsored by the Denver police department, the officer in charge remarked of the homeless, “The city fathers will need to address this problem soon.” The city fathers cannot create change on their own; they need the support of their denizens. They need us. We answer to our Heavenly Father and must respond to His call. We are the residents of the city who can do something. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?” This is our goal: To give back dignity to those who have lost it. To help the addicted. To offer services to those who are willing to help themselves.
If we start paying attention to those around us, we can affect great change. The homeless are our fellow brothers and sisters. As such, they should have access to good food, warm shelter, quality education, and job opportunities. If we ignore this issue, we are ignoring John’s admonition in 1 John 3:17: “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”(NKJV)
The 16th Street mall has so much potential. The Clock Tower, the Money Museum, the Colorado souvenir shops, the good eating places, the Paramount Theater, the pianos, and street vendors—all offer wonderful experiences in our town. But, unless we start caring about the bigger picture of humanity in our city, we won’t be able to enjoy an undisturbed Sunday afternoon stroll through the shops, or a quiet cup of coffee while listening to Mozart from a street pianist.