4 lives put on hold on the mean streets of Aurora for under 300 dollars 08/29/17

Meet Antonio Williams known as “Kapone” on the streets of North Aurora, CO.  Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

08/29/17 – Aurora, CO: PART 2 OF THIS REPORT.

This has been a difficult last 10 days or so for me.  If your read my last posting, I have returned to the old carwash on East Colfax and the couple that lives there. This assignment has really given me cause to reflect.  As a freelance photojournalist my income tends to ebb and flow.  Anyone who knows freelance news photography understands that it is frequently a lifestyle of “feast or famine”.  Due to a slow beginning of summer news in the Denver area, my work (and subsequently my income) has been in a bit of an ebb period for the last few weeks.  This is nothing new to professionals in my line of work.  It pretty much comes with the territory.  I don’t usually air my personal laundry on this web site, but I feel this bit of background adds to what I have experienced and learned over the last week and a half or so while on this assignment.

‘Antonio “Kapone” Williams and his wife Lynn have squatted in an abandoned Aurora car wash for a month’

Last week I brought you the story of Antonio Williams (known on the streets of Aurora Colorado as “Kapone”) and his wife Lynn.  The couple has been squatting in a dilapidated and  abandoned car wash next to the Mexican Mall located at East Colfax Ave. and North Joliet street.  They have lived in the far western bay of the old car wash for about 30 days,  Long enough to fill it surprisingly full with personal belongings.

Lynn and Kapone share a moment in their carwash home.  Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

To the average passerby their personal items appear to be the usual collection of homeless person stuff.  Some of it junky in appearance.  Some of it eclectic.  Some of it seemingly trash, but to Kapone and Lynn this carwash has served as there home for a month, and a home and its contents are to be respected.

Now travel with me just a few miles south of the old car wash.  We shoot straight down Havana Street and land at the McDonald’s located at South Havana Street and East Florida Ave.  It’s just before 9PM and nighttime has set in.  While leaving the restaurant after a cold soda, I see a man wheeling a baby stroller out of the men’s room.  I notice a jug of milk on top of the stroller located next to a handful of cigarette butts.  This hooks my curiosity.

The top of a baby stroller.  Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

In the dark stroller, I spy a small girl sleeping soundly.  I ask the man if he is doing OK this evening.  He starts to fidget and looks at his feet.  He then replies “No, I’m actually not doing that well tonight.  I’m trying to get a motel for the night for me and my daughter, but right now I’m 25 bucks short.”

‘Jeff is homeless and he and his 2 year old daughter need a motel for the night’

His name is Jeff.  I’ve chosen not to show Jeff’s face in this article to protect the privacy of his 2 year old daughter who I will call “Summer” (name changed).

Meet Jeff. I bumped into Jeff and his 2 year old daughter at McDonald’s located at S. Havana St. and E. Florida Ave.  Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

Summer sleeps soundly with a milk bottle pursed between her tiny lips.  I can’t help but wonder if the milk has gone sour from the heat of the late August evening.  She’s a bit dirty in appearance and dressed in a little denim jumper.  “Why are you on the street tonight” I ask Jeff?  He replies “My wife is in the Denver County Jail on a very old theft offense she committed as a kid.  I don’t have the money to bail her out.  She has been there 70 days already.  I live on the streets and Summer usually stays with my mom, but my mom is in the mountains this weekend for work so Summer is with me tonight.”  Jeff tell me that he keeps a pretty large territory.  I ask Jeff if he his familiar with the couple who dwell in the abandoned 75 cent coin operated car wash.  As it turns out, Jeff knows both Kapone and Lynn up on Colfax, and they later inform me that they know Jeff and his little girl as well.  It can be a pretty small world in the homeless community, even in a city the size of Metro Denver and Aurora.  Jeff keenly remembers the couple’s elaborate camp in the old carwash bay.  They in turn recall Jeff wheeling the sweet little girl around in the stroller on East Colfax.  Jeff remarks that Kapone seems like a cool guy.  Kapone makes a similar comment about Jeff when asked.

‘Kapone keeps busy with household chores in the old car wash’
Kapone tidies up his home.  Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

When I wrote my article last week I stated that Kapone and Lynn were basically stranded in their old car wash “home” for the sake of about $300.  They told me at the time they were from Russell, Kansas and that they would gladly return home there for the price of 2 bus tickets and maybe a little travel money.  Russell is located about 5 hours due East of Aurora off I-70 (just East of Hays).

Kapone and Lynn wish to return to Russell Kansas, a place they once called their home

I checked the bus line. A ticket to Hays, KS averages about $85. or so per person.  If what they stated is true, then they are both stranded in North A-Town for an amount that is actually closer to $200 cash.  When I first met the husband and wife I happened to be pretty financially strapped that week myself, but at the same time I was trying to wrap my head around what it must be like to be so broke that you have to live in an old carwash (if you are lucky to have one as your shelter)?  I mean come on Folks!  200 to 300 dollars.  That sounds like some kind of weak excuse to continue living on the streets doesn’t it?  Let’s face it.  If you are like me you have probably heard the following more times than you can count: ‘Homeless people are there by choice!’  ‘Don’t give them money or they will just spend it on drugs!’  Fast food joints are always hiring, why not get a job there flipping burgers?’  ‘Most of them are mentally ill.  How could I possibly help?’  On and on the lines seem to go.

Kapone lives in chronic back pain due to scoliosis and degenerative disc disease. Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

Yet as I spent more time with Kapone and his wife Lynn, and Jeff and his little daughter Summer, more and more questions seemed to gel in my mind.  I’ve faced challenging finances at times.  Many, if not most of us have to varying degrees.  What has separated me at those times from these 4 people and complete homelessness such as they now live in?  Brains?  Luck?  Timing?  Circumstance?  Divine intervention?  We hear it from experts all the time.  “The average American is living about 2 paychecks away from being homeless.”

Amongst other things, Kapone repairs old bikes and sells or barters them to make a meager, but honest living.  Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

Sound like a line of crap to you?  Step back and give it a second thought.  This stuff is for real people.  The more of these homeless folks I meet, the more shocked I am at the diverse lives that they used to have.  Some honorable.  Some productive.  Some average.  Some criminal.  Some wealthy.  The list goes on and on.

Lets take these two families shall we?  Kapone (Antonio if you prefer) is no babe in the woods.  It turns out Russell Kansas is not actually his home town.  It’s simply a place where he lived for and while, and the place and lifestyle to which he would like to return.  No, his background story is far from perfect.

54 year old Antonio “Kapone” Williams looks out from the broken vacuums at the old Aurora car wash which he calls home.  Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

Kapone grew up in Southern California, Compton to be exact, and started gang-banging at age 8.  As a young man he was “commissioned” by his chapter of the Bloods Gang to come to Denver and start gang enterprises and to enforce gang-rules in Colorado.

‘Kapone was once a hard-core gang banger’

Yes, his story gets worse as so often it does.  Crack cocaine was huge when he hit the streets of Denver as a young Bloods gang member.  He was “crackin'” (as he tells me) and engaging in violent crime,  even culminating with racketeering and kidnapping.

As a young Blood member Kapone blasted through huge amounts of cash daily. Now 5 dollars can mean eating a meal on the street or not.  Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

Kapone says that at one point in his past he had a couple of people in the trunk of a car.  They both were tied up and he had shot bullet holes in the trunk of the car so they could breath.  The next thing you know, this 54 year old former gangster tells me, God “intervened” and he sent the two victims alive and packing.  He ultimately does 16 years in prison, continues to find The Lord and boom, fast-forward!  He’s says he’s now completely done with violent crime.  Now that same man, a former and Original Gangster extolls the blessings of God and shares food, clothing and goods with other homeless passers-by of the weathered old blue and white car wash.  Why are he and his wife of 10 years in this abandoned car wash anyway?  Oh yes, I remember.  They need a minimum of 200 bucks for bus fare to Kansas.

Summer sleeps in her stroller.  Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

Back South again to the McD’s on Havana at Florida.  I’m still talking to Jeff, father of 2 year old Summer.  It’s a bit past 9PM at this point.  Jeff tells me he is almost 40 years old.  He is originally from New Jersey but he has been in Denver 30 plus years now.  About 25 years ago, Jeff was nailed on his bicycle by a pizza delivery driver.  It pretty much destroyed his left knee and left it permanently swollen and painful.  Then his kidneys were trashed by IV antibiotics.  Then he got hooked on pain meds.  His doctors have told him that he will most likely succumb to kidney failure as a reasonably young man due to his kidney damage.

‘Jeff refuses to take his daughter Summer into bedbug infested homeless shelters’

He refuses to stay in homeless shelters.  The reason?  Bed bugs!  “I’ve seen them crawling everywhere in shelters.  I can’t take my daughter Summer into those places”.  What about Summer’s mom I ask?

Jeff and his daughter “Summer”. Jeff’s left knee was virtually destroyed when a car stuck him 25 years ago.  Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

“She’s been in jail for about 70 days now.  I can’t contact her because I don’t have a phone to take a collect call on.  I haven’t talked to  her in 70 days.  Her bond is $2000.  A bail-bondsman told me he could get her out of jail if I can come up with 10 percent of her bond, which is $200.  She could have a pre-sentence investigation next week.  She might spend another 8 weeks in jail.  My choice every day is to keep my daughter out of the bedbug infested shelters or get my wife out of jail.”  Jeff panhandles outside the fast food restaurant with little Summer in tow.  He says “This is killing my pride.  It’s a vicious cycle!”

Home sweet home in the old car wash.  Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com
More to come. Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

By this point of my assignment I’m starting to gain a whole new appreciation for what it’s like to really be financially challenged.  I pause and consider these two families.  I wonder how the August night will treat them?

‘How will these two families fair their homeless summer night?’

Will Kapone and Lynn rest comfortably and safely in the old car wash tonight?  Will Jeff and Summer make it to a safe and relatively clean motel, one with clean sheets and no bedbugs?  I ponder in the soft night breeze.  More to follow on these two struggling families in part 3 of this series.  Shane Anthony reporting ColoradoNews1.com

300 dollars strands couple in old abandoned east Colfax carwash 08/17/17

An old car wash on East Colfax. Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

08/17/17 Aurora, CO – PART 1 OF THIS REPORT.

What could 300 bucks buy you?  For some people people maybe 2 tickets to a classic rock 70’s band reunion.  For others a football ticket or two.  For many, a day for two on one of Colorado’s premier ski slopes skiing or riding in the early Spring sun.  For Antonio Williams (known on the streets as Kapone) and his wife Lynn it could be their ticket to freedom.  A  chance to escape life on the street,  two bus tickets to Russell Kansas and some change left over for food and travel to be exact.  It could buy them clean water to shower in, a bed in a real house, maybe even a new lease on life.  What’s $300 dollars to most of us in Metro Denver?  A weekend fun budget?  To this husband and wife team it’s a more than mad money.  It’s what keeps them stranded in an old abandoned car wash.  It might as well be 10 grand.

Antonio. Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

Take their location on the edge of East Colfax in Aurora near North Havana Street behind a tire shop.  A strip of Old US Highway 40 to be exact.  Now draw a straight line due east 365 miles (about 5 hours by bus) to Russell Kansas (which is just east of Hays) and you have arrived at Antonio and Lynn’s home town.  It’s even off Old US Highway 40 as well (just North of I-70).  The couple arrived in Denver about a year ago for a funeral when Antonio’s dad passed away.  Antonio says a cash-swindling family member cost him his return trip money after the funeral.  The rest is regrettable history.

Lynn and Antonio pose. Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

Both members of this marital team are willing to work.  Antonio, who’s in his early 50’s, actually has been a skilled worker in the past.  He was also a wild land firefighter in Kansas and Colorado.  He even helped fight the Hayman Fire when it ripped thru Southern Colorado many years ago.  Now physical work is more difficult for Antonio.  He suffers from scoliosis and degenerative disc disease.

Antonio’s gnarled spine. Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

One glance at his spine shows a life filled with physical pain.  In spite of this, he and Lynn keep busy in their East Colfax neighborhood.  Their “home” is filled with street-dweller possessions and treasures.  Old bicycle wheels, hubcaps, tents, a leather chair, ashtrays, knick-knacks and trinkets galore.  Some of it they keep for their own use or creature comforts.  Other items they sell or barter to other homeless people.  Other street folk are welcome to stop by, but Antonio and Lynn have two strict rules.  Number 1: Keep their home clean and tidy.  Number 2: No Hard Drugs!

Lynn reflects on life in the old car wash. Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

I ask Antonio about the old car wash property owner.  Does she mind that they squat there.  He says “She’s cool!” She even comes around now and then.”  For now she seems OK with them staying there.  I ask about the Aurora Cops?  “Oh ya.  They are real cool so far with us as well.” replies Antonio.  Their desire or goal to get back to Kansas.  It is a come-on or a scam?  “We are for real.” says Antonio who also goes by the street name of “Capone”.  “We need cash or 2 bus tickets.  Folks could just hand us two tickets to Russell and we would be very grateful.” What about God in your life and a place like this I ask?  “We are very blessed.” both Antonio and Lynn respond.  How do you feel about all the division in our Country right now I ask Antonio?  “It’s sad…This is America.  We should all be as one.”

Antonio and Lynn’s home. Photo by Shane Anthony ColoradoNews1.com

By now I’ve spent about a half hour with this unique couple.  I don’t want to overstay my welcome.  They make me feel invited, but I arrived at their home unannounced.  I take one last look around their “house”.  Old nylon tents.  Blankets.  A small camping potty.  An old wheelbarrow.  Even an American flag.  I thank them for being so welcoming and generous with their time.  Antonio invites me to return any time.  “Maybe you can go on my neighborhood route with me sometime.  Meet my home boys.”  I pause and reflect for a moment.  I think I will return sometime soon.  When I do, personally I hope to not see Antonio and Lynn in the old carwash again.  I hope by then the two of them are 365 miles East of here in Russell Kansas.  You know.  Right off Old US Highway 40.  Yes, nothing personal.  I hope to not see them again in North Aurora.  What’s $300?  Weekend fun money, or maybe the stuff new dreams are made of?  I can’t really say.  Can you?  Shane Anthony reporting for ColoradoNews1.com