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.
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.
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).
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’
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
“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!”
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