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How Denver will hide its homeless during the Democratic convention

July 16, 2008 |  7:08 pm

Next month, more than 50,000 politicos, protesters, journalists and security types will invade downtown Denver for the Democratic National Convention.

Good news for local businesses. Bad news for the city’s large homeless population, which has long claimed the Mile High City's downtown as its turf.

So while the delegates are reveling and the protesters are rabble-rousing, what will the nearly 4,000 homeless be doing?

The skyline of downtown Denver which will host the Democratic National Convention and nominate Barack Obama the last few days of August

Well, according to the Rocky Mountain News, some will be kicking back in a local movie theater to take in the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

Others will be strolling around the Denver Zoo or the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. And others will be playing bingo.

All the events will be free to them, funded by Denver Road Home, a branch of the mayor’s office dedicated to ending homelessness in the city. The organization got the money for the convention events from the United Way.

So is this a Democratic Party ploy to sanitize the streets during the quadrennial political pep rally and nomination of....

...Illinois Sen. Barack Obama? To keep the vagrants out of sight while the cameras roll?

A spokeswoman for one homeless advocacy group that received some of the extra funding says no.

“We’re not hiding the homeless,” B.J. Iacino, of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, said. “We’re housing them."

The special measures are planned because advocates say they fear the convention might traumatize the homeless, many of whom are Vietnam veterans suffering from mental illness, according to Jamie Van Leeuwen, head of Denver’s Road Home.

“Homeless veterans get very scared when there are lots of helicopters and lots of guns,” he said. “And there’s going to be a lot of that here.”

Unlike other Denver residents, the homeless won’t be able to escape the convention chaos. “If other people want a break, they can get in their car and leave,” he said. “These people don’t have that luxury.”

Alternatively, there will also be opportunities for the homeless to get involved in the convention activities. Several shelters plan on broadcasting parts of it live for curious patrons. And Iacino’s organization will be launching a voter registration drive.

And for those folks who just want in on the celebration, there will be bingo.

Van Leeuwen explains it this way: “We asked some of the homeless what they wanted during this time and they said, ‘If there’s a party, we want to be a part of the party. We want bingo.”

-- Kate Linthicum

Photo credit: City of Denver Convention Bureau

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