Nothing is more relaxing and therapeutic than a night spent sleeping under the Colorado stars — unless you’re camping among drug addicts and mentally ill vagrants along local creeks and rivers or under metro area bridges.

Every summer, I live to bike all over the metro area, always before sunrise and sometimes hours before then. Avoiding surprised skunks and plagues of mosquitoes, I haunt trails in the dark along the South Platte River, Clear Creek, Cherry Creek, Sand Creek and others.

For years, I’d meet a very few fellow dark-riders and runners, the occasional glassy-eyed reveler and a handful of restless vagrants.

It’s been a whole different world that past couple of years, and especially the past couple of months. I have never seen so many homeless campers on the Platte as I did last weekend. Dozens and dozens of them. Despite what you think, most of them are not the trembling alcoholics that hover around Jesus Saves.

Last Saturday it was an underground city of mostly couples and even families with kids. A story we did last year made it clear that the river-camp plight is a growing problem along the Platte, into Aurora and pretty much all over the metro area. Despite the clichéd beggars you have in mind, a lot of these river people are the real working poor with minimum wage and temp jobs.

So this is what minimum wage gets you in metro Denver as an adult.

If you think a hike in the minimum wage is just about a bunch of shiftless whiners who don’t deserve $12 an hour to clean toilets, feed old people in nursing homes or ring up your groceries, modern-day Hoovervilles is what that kind of thinking buys your fellow humans in and around Aurora.

The problem is so persistent that Denver has made special efforts to shoo away the river people, but it doesn’t work. Aurora regularly confiscates the worldly possessions left behind at camps under bridges and viaducts by people who stash their stuff  and go to school and work. Two years ago, a special Census revealed there were more than 12,000 homeless people in the metro area. Far more. More than a third had jobs. Two-thirds “live” with children.

What’s sadder than families trying to eke out a life on the river is the vehement push-back from opponents of raising the minimum wage to at least $10 or $12 and hour. It’ll bankrupt endless businesses, many say. It’s not needed because $8 an hour in Colorado is all the market can bear.

That’s all crap.

Sure, adding labor cost to any business has a net economic affect. But the myth from corporate America is that higher wages must all come from the pockets of consumers. The offset should come from profits and relative overpayment to top-level management. It’s not wrong or impossible. Wealthy, happy, successful economies like those in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands and many others have proven that you can have free-market economies, pay people a practical and realistic wage for their time worked and still make big profits for stockholders. If you haven’t noticed, Germany and Scandinavia rule the world right now. They don’t have problems with hard-working, poor people living under bridges. Smaller American companies should be able to offset higher labor costs through tax credits, which in turn are offset by employee taxes on higher earnings paid to workers.

It really works.  But to just shrug our shoulders and say, “Hey, don’t like it? Get a job somewhere else or start your own business,” is like telling an amputee to suck it up and grow legs. It’s unrealistic. More important, it creates a system that forces people into what is, at best, government-sanctioned indentured servitude, and at worst, modern slavery.

Another myth is that these are all illegal Latin American immigrants sleeping along the river. Sure, some are. But they’re also U.S. military vets. They’re elderly Americans who worked their whole lives and lost what little they had to greedy banks and mortgage companies. They’re young couples who have no money for college, and middle-aged Americans with families whose marginal-salary jobs were sent oversees to insufferable child and female labor camps in China, Malaysia and India. They’re our friends, neighbors, families. They’re people.

They’re Americans, and they live on the banks of the Platte River in Denver, walking miles each day to minimum-wage gigs that cap their hours to prevent having to pay overtime or offer insurance, forcing these people to work two or three minimum-wage jobs just to make enough to sleep in a tent among wandering drug addicts and mentally ill alcoholics.

No kidding, it looks like a Steinbeck novel just steps away from million-dollar condos and comfortable suburban homes. It’s grotesque. And it’s wrong. A business and its profit margins pegged on paying people a wage that results in suffering, brings on two things: unionization and, ultimately, revolt. “Can you hear the people sing…?” I can.

33 replies on “PERRYBLOG: Preventing a Colorado minimum-wage hike funds Denver-metro shanty towns”

  1. I have it Dave. Let’s give them all new homes! New vehicles! New clothing! Well Dave, just New everything! Section 8 isn’t enough, food stamps aren’t enough, camping in city parks isn’t enough, ADC isn’t enough, spending cash isn’t enough, loitering on city streets (and under bridges) isn’t enough, well Dave, it’s never going to be enough for you liberal hand wringers. When you talk of ‘families’ under bridges, none I’ve seen, I seen what’s there Dave, drunks and drug addicts, not families with children getting ready for school and work, what horseshit.

  2. Dave, you make it sound like the bums camping along our green belts are hapless victims and the rest of us who have homes and pay our bills and taxes are POS.

    1. That’s right Joe. You’re the victim here. You’ve been smeared. Your feelings are hurt. We are so sorry.

  3. Many of us are just a paycheck away from being homeless. Don’t judge lest you be judged, and yes, minimum wage needs to be at least $12./hr.

    1. If you raise the minimum wage to $12.00/hr many will earn too much to qualify for government subsidies and will be kicked off those programs.
      In addition, business’ will employ part-time or, fewer people as a result. Any business that operates on a thin margin, will be forced to close it’s doors. In other words, more people will be out of jobs.
      So, all those people you think you’re going to help, will actually be hurt in the big picture. You can’t have it both ways.
      I think Dave Perry should sell his bike on Craigslist and jog down to Cherry Creek before sunrise, and hand out his money. I just hope he doesn’t run past the Korean BBQ on Iliff because he might not make it back to write another brilliant opinion piece.

  4. Dave doesn’t let the facts get in the way of a good opinion piece. For example, Germany has a horrendous problem with the homeless with estimates upwards of 860k. There minimum wage is about $9:50 hr

    1. Your figures are wrong…Try about 380,000 estimated by 2016.
      Also, this article posits that Germany’s high rate of inequality – income of the richest compared to the poorest – is a big factor.

      1. Germany has a problem with accuracy in counting their homeless numbers but we will use yours. So 380k homeless in Germany out of a population of 80 million. United States 574k homeless on a given night out of a population 320 million. Germany does not seem to be doing a good job with their homeless given their higher mininumum wage. In the U.S. Only 2.6% who work hourly or with salary make minimum wage

        1. Not really an apples to apples comparison. Can we compare a big city with a big city?

          It is estimated that there are 1000-4000 homeless people in Berlin – Berlin has about 3,400,000 inhabitants.

          The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative conducts a point-in-time survey every year to assess the demographics of homelessness in our community. The last survey was taken in January of 2014 and found that 5,812 individuals were experiencing homelessness and 2,230 people were at-risk of homelessness in the Denver area.

          Denver metro has a population 2.6 million. Germany seems to be doing better than Colorado by the numbers.

          Also you used a figure that includes sheltered homeless. Since German laws declare the state has to pay rent if a person cannot afford, their homeless are generally people that want to be homeless or immigrants.

  5. The state of Colorado prohibits local communities from enacting a minimum wage higher than the state’s. It is an ALEC sponsored initiative that helps the 1% at the cost of hundreds of thousands of hard working people.

    The Colorado Community Rights Amendment will give communities power to enact a local living wage, as well as sheltering communities from industrial lawsuits when they ban harmful projects like fracking.

    There is a reason that these types of decisions are prohibited – they would give people the power to create the working conditions and environmental protections that we need, and this would come at the cost to corporate profit and power.

    Look into the ballot measure and attend the state summit on August 15. The 2016 Colorado Community Rights Amendment – Legalizing democracy where we live.

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