AURORA | A homeless man who said his camping equipment was stolen just before a major snowstorm at Thanksgiving is now living in an Aurora apartment.
Tim, who would only provide his first name for privacy reasons, recently moved into an Aurora apartment after seven months sleeping outside, mostly in and near Cherry Creek State Park, where he said he and other homeless campers are enduring harassment from self-appointed park police.
Tim said he’s thankful to the city program that made a real home possible, but he warns homeless people to be wary of theft and harassment by people in the area acting as self-appointed police.
Shelley McKittrick, the homelessness program director for the City of Aurora, approved $1,600 to help Tim move through the House Aurora partnership. That initiative helps pay up-front housing costs such as a security deposit and first- and last-month’s rent, which can be a major barrier for working poor people living on the streets.
“My favorite thing to do is get people straight from their tent to a home,” McKittrick said. “Especially someone who was being harassed. I haven’t heard those kinds of stories before — in Aurora.”
McKittrick said she hadn’t confirmed claims that one area man seen regularly policing the park, Dennis Lisby, had stolen Tim’s possessions in November.
Denver resident Regan Benson began helping Tim with supplies and eventually move into a home after reading accounts on a Facebook page used by local residents. There, residents living near the state park argue that taking possessions from the homeless — drug addicts, in particular — would actually help them get off the streets.
Benson said Lisby, a member of the Arapahoe County Tea Party Facebook page group, was harassing homeless residents camping illegally in the massive state park bounding Centennial and Aurora.
Lisby’s Facebook posts have celebrated the removal of illegal encampments in the park, although it is unclear whether he and other Tea Party members were responsible for Tim’s loss. Park overseer Colorado Parks and Wildlife notifies illegal campers and later confiscates their property, according to park officials. Parks employees work to give homeless residents information about resources, spokesman Jason Clay said in December. CPW said any civilian taking homeless persons’ property could be prosecuted for theft.
Property of the homeless people can be returned to them, park officials said.
In one video posted by Lisby’s Facebook account, a woman ostensibly camping illegally in the state park confronts a man, who is off-camera. She claims he “destroyed my camp.” Lisby routinely posted images of the homeless encampments and previously said in chats that six tents were removed.
It’s unclear if he and other activists are responsible. Lisby declined to comment in response to Sentinel inquiries.
Tim did not see the person responsible for stealing his property in December. He said CPW had previously confiscated his items but left a tag indicating he could get the items back.
A California native, Tim said he became homeless after falling behind on bills. He said he maintained a job during his seven-month stretch of living on the state park’s edge in a jurisdictional gray area. He worked as a door-to-door salesman and fished in the reservoir.
“Either you get into something, or you can’t pay your rent, or you lose your job. Anything like that — and it seems to snowball from there,” Tim said of homelessness. “Once you get out there, it’s really hard to get out of there…. You have to get all this money just to get back into a place.”
Tim’s tenure at the state park coincided with a modest uptick in illegal camping there, said Clay of Parks and Wildlife. He said in December that there were about three tents posted there on a given day.
According to Tim, some campers included drug addicts who threw refuse liberally.
When his possessions were stolen, Tim said he was down several tents, a portable stove and heater, and personal possessions such as mementos of his son. That put him back $300 after a shopping spree at a local Walmart.
He said homeless people still camping in the park should be wary of harassment.
“If they leave their camp, and someone comes, and there is no one there, they will come and take their stuff,” he said.
The conflict at the state park evolved into a flashpoint between the Arapahoe Tea Party and Colorado Libertarian Party. Last month, the state Libertarian group released a statement condemning harassment of the homeless at the state park.
“Allowing an individual to exist in a public space, is a basic right; and the rights of these homeless individuals have been violated, in a vile, and criminal way,” the statement said.