Article and photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media
It was a wonderful night of hope, love and justice as hundreds gathered to honor those who assist and advocate for Denver’s unhoused neighbors.
It was NEWSED’s 30th Annual Civil Rights awards held at the Reelworks, formerly the EXDO Events Center in Denver’s RINO district. Two individuals and three organizations were recognized for their outstanding work in providing assistance and support to those Denver residents that have nowhere to call home.
A new study, State of Homelessness in 2021, shows Colorado has the No. 11 highest rate of homelessness in America. Denver has the No. 38 highest homeless rate among U.S. cities.
By July 1, Denver conducted more encampment sweeps with at least 51 sweeps in six months compared to about 49 in all of 2020, according to data collected by Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca’s office.
The issues affecting homelessness are complex and challenging. politicians and government agencies struggle to find answers while non profits and volunteers do what they can to assist and advocate on their behalf.
” I fear our fundamental human rights are under attack, homelessness isn’t an issue that just affects some of us, it affects all of us,” said Andrea Barela, Executive Director of NEWSED. “Clearing a homeless encampment harms an individuals connection to service providers, makes them more susceptible to illness and does not help with self sufficiency” said Barela, adding “Those living on the streets are not our enemy, they are not an inconvenience, They’re us and we are them.” Barela emphasized the point that many families and individuals are only a paycheck or an emergency away from homelessness. “We have a role to play in preventing homelessness and finding homes for those who need them, no matter their situation,” said Barela.
This years Civil Rights Award ceremony recognized those who work tirelessly to help Denver’s unhoused neighbors.
PJ D’Amico, an avid fly fisherman, has been key in developing the tiny homes pilot program in Denver. Among his many credits and accomplishments D’Amico brings over 30 years of experience to the civic sector where he has served as an executive director, program officer in philanthropy, development officer, board member, and advocate for social change at the local, national and international level.
D’Amico recently told CBS4 News, “The sweeps had become so terrible, so we realized that we had to create spaces that were dignified, and that were still outside of the shelters where people could feel safe, I hope that we can scale this and create these throughout the city, so we can deconcentrate homelessness from the downtown corridor, and really engage people back into communities where they belong. People need neighbors” said The Buck Foundation Executive Director PJ D’Amico.
Denver Councilwomen Candi Cde Baca was recognized for her passionate stance against the criminalization of poverty, environmental racism and the displacement of Denver’s black and brown people.
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless was honored for putting the needs of unhoused people first. “For 30 years you have refused to tolerate the intolerable. Thank you for your compassionate ad advocacy, your innovation is essential to the health and quality of life of people experiencing homelessness.” read the an excerpt from the evening’s program.
Denver Homeless Out Loud was recognized for their work with and for people who experience homelessness to help protect and advocate for dignity. “your protect the rights , uphold the dignity and amplify the voices of people living on the streets. Thank you for teaching us to Get Loud,” read the program.
The Denver VOICE was given a Civil Rights Award for changing the face of homelessnes. The VOICE is a monthly street newspaper that provides income opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and poverty in the Denver metro area. Their mission is to facilitate a dialogue addressing the roots of homelessness while offering economic, educational, and empowerment opportunities to the impoverished community. Since 2007, more than 4,600 people have found financial stability through their vendor program.
Speaking on the work that the NEWSED Community Development Corporation does attendee Deborah Quintana told Latin Life Denver Media, “I think it’s commendable that even after coming out of the pandemic, NEWSED continues to stand out as leaders and advocates for so many people and causes. I think that the success today is attributed to the groundwork that founderVeronica Barela put in place and how she was able to mentor her daughter Andrea to follow in her footsteps with the same passion.”
A business woman herself Quintana, President/CEO at World Wide Insurance and Business Services, Inc added “I like that they recognize businesses that were actually trailblazing through so many political obstacles. It’s refreshing that they seem to handpick those organizations who are in the forefront of the streets, advocating for the homeless. I was touched that they actually had testimonials of people that are affected by homelessness. Sometimes awards are given to individuals but I’d like that they gave them to organizations fighting for the right causes. I do not think that elected officials are doing enough. They should be a concerted effort in all agencies but it’s not. More is being done by volunteers than by elected officials.”