ABOUT SENIOR SUPPORT SERVICES
Senior Support Services is a day center for homeless and extremely low-income senior citizens in Denver. They offer free meals, food and clothing banks, access to computers, and support in searching for housing and medical care. Clients are at least 55 years old, and have an average monthly income of $625. Many are coping with physical and mental health issues, and some struggle with addictions. SSS was established forty years ago, and since then has provided consistent services for this vulnerable population. By providing hot, healthy meals and a safe place for people to spend their days, SSS helps homeless and hungry elderly in Denver maintain better health and dignity.
Our visit to Senior Support Services was for a Sunday lunch just after Christmas. There was snow on the ground, and nighttime temperature was well below dangerous temperatures for folks sleeping outside.
OUR DAY WITH SENIOR SUPPORT SERVICES
We heard many stories.
“This happened so fast,” said a man named Gary. “I was working hard. But I wasn’t paying attention and things just fell apart.”
Another man told us that he worked for 40 years in construction and warehousing. He said, “I spent forty years as a hard worker. Now I’m bored.” He told us that small Social Security checks didn’t make up for the way life used to be. Others were ex-military, including a Corporal in the Marines.
One man showed us photos of his granddaughter in El Paso, playing in the foot of snow that arrived just after Christmas—her first ever snow. Another was waiting for his daughter to call. She had missed Father’s Day and now Christmas. “I’m trying not to be bitter.”
Another, named Johnathan, had lost a friend after he was hit by a car the night before.
THE PEOPLE WE MET SHARED A FAMILIAR RANGE OF JOYS AND SADNESSES, AUGMENTED BY THE VULNERABILITY AND PAIN OF HOMELESSNESS.
Many of the people at the Senior Support Center are homeless, but not sleeping on the street. They live in shelters, which charge as much as $50 per night, or stay permanently in cheap motels. Sleeping outside in the below-freezing Colorado winters is a single small mistake away—an illness, the loss or theft of an essential item, a missing check.
Others sleep in their cars, including one man who explained that he fills large pop bottles with hot water from a coffee shop to use as heat. He had woken up that morning unable to move his feet after one of the bottles leaked.
We heard about a local shelter that caters to all ages, and which is therefore often violent and loud. It was overcrowded, with sleeping mats on the ground in addition to the rented beds. A man named Kenny told us that he was ‘jumped’ in the bathroom and robbed, although he escaped uninjured. He said that the overcrowding had been noticed by the fire marshals, and that the place was in violation of fire code. “What are you going to tell people, though? A slightly higher fire risk isn’t in the same universe as sending someone to sleep outside in this cold.”
We recognized several individuals from Christmas in the Park, just two days before.
Senior Support Services is highly regarded as a safe and reliable space for meals, a roof over their heads, and a place to relax. The center has a bank of computers, filled with folks checking emails, reading the news, and relaxing. A back room features a brand-new flatscreen TV, and an enthusiastic group of viewers passing the time together. As a day center, it keeps people off the streets for at least a few hours each day. It’s a community, although one of necessity rather than choice.
Groups take turns volunteering to cook and serve lunches. We were there with a group of friends who commit to serving food on the last Sunday of each month. Lunch was chicken, potatoes, green beans, and rolls. Folks came through the line, were greeted, and had their plates filled. Many came back for seconds. Some came for thirds. Some lingered over their meals, while others ate quickly and headed back outside.
We heard many stories of gratitude, and repeated thanks for the day’s lunch being flavorful, hot, and plentiful. When the dessert trays were loaded up and whisked around to the various tables, the whole place turned noisy, boisterous, and happy. Homemade peach cobbler has that effect on people.