It’s debatable just how bad the homeless problem is in Aurora.
What’s sadly indisputable is that nearly 10 years after Jimbo became just another victim of life on the streets, we’re having the same arguments now that we were then.
“There is one less vagrant on East Colfax,” I wrote nine years ago in The Sentinel. “He froze to death on a bench two days after Christmas.
He was James Leach, but everyone knew him as “Jimbo.” He was a veteran. He was a Sioux. He was a dad. He was a talker, 57, an annoyance, a friend, a helper and a serious alcoholic.
Like so many of the hundreds of homeless people that wander East Colfax as they pass their days, he was invisible for the many years he spent in Aurora. Like a Ralph Ellison character, he was accustomed to people looking through him, past him, almost anything but at him. That invisibility cost him his life on Dec. 27, 2012, when no one noticed him sleeping or passed out on a bench next to the Fox Theater. That night, the mercury dipped down to about 7 degrees, and his body temperature soon followed.
Homeless people are used to being unseen. Pedestrians walking toward them pretend they don’t hear or see them, especially if they hold up a sign pleading for money or make a move like they might ask for something.
For years, city officials have denied that people like Jimbo even existed in Aurora. Elected officials would pooh-pooh the notion that there were more than a few “really” homeless people in Aurora.
It was a Denver problem. Sure, there are folks holed up in flea-bag motels on Colfax, but those are just “under-housed” residents.
Now, your elected city officials, like all of us, are well aware of just how serious the homeless situation is since so many are now camping out in plain sight.
City officials often used to deny there were people in Aurora like Carlos, Old Man Tommy, Mona, Steve or Tig. They were Jimbo’s closest friends and shared his life on Colfax. They were not homeless if home is a library, soup kitchen, alley, bus shelter or whatever apartment lobby they didn’t get shooed from.
Their bedrooms were inside Dumpsters, against a warm wall, under an exhaust vent, inside an unlocked car or in a dreary Colfax motel when it got killer cold. Aurora Warms the Night has for years handed out motel room vouchers for just that purpose, just in case city officials were mistaken and the dozens of non-homeless people in Aurora needed a place to keep from freezing to death.
For whatever reason, Jimbo didn’t get a voucher that cold December night. He was almost certainly drunk. His friends and a host of the usual do-gooders and perennial volunteers in the city lamented all that when they held a memorial service for him a few weeks later at the American Legion Hall, not far from where he died.
“He was the most gentle person I ever knew,” said Steve, as he stood at the service among 50 or so. Old Man Tommy credited his life to Jimbo, saying he always had his friends’ backs when they were too drunk to look out for themselves.
“We’re all alcoholics,” Carlos said. “But he was good people. We’re all good people.”
It was easy to see just how true that was. It was just as plain that despite every opportunity to quit drinking and grab onto the American dream, they never did. Jimbo’s friends dignified his life and his death.
As I was leaving the service, an old man staggered along Colfax, nearly falling every few seconds. Like unwanted dandelions, even if one is ripped out, another one will spring up. But as exasperating as they can be, you just can’t help but smile at how wondrous a dandelion is when it’s blooming right in front of you.
Few people you’ve elected in Aurora feel that way. These folks are nothing but unsightly weeds to be mowed or shooed into someone else’s city or park.
I keep hearing how these people “choose” to be homeless. They choose booze or meth or crappy heroin over a decent place to sleep and a job to keep them there.
Jimbo never wanted to be a homeless drunk, and no one wanted for that to be what killed him. If quitting such a wretched life were easy, everyone would.
It’s election time in Aurora, and winter is coming again. Check out who’s running for city council and how they feel about people like Jimbo and how much money to put into Aurora Warms the Night.
Then you decide who you think will do the best job of keeping me out of funerals for men like him. Men who, some say, choose death over obeying the law, getting a job and staying out of everyone’s way.
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