DENVER — Amid growing concern from community leaders about homeless encampments near RTD stations and lines — including reports of fires and trespassing onto light rail tracks, which endangers both the person and the RTD driver — a new homeless outreach coordinator has been quietly working to intervene and offer services to those experiencing homelessness before authorities sweep the camps.
“Working with operators for RTD, they immediately identify the danger each and every time they’re driving through here,” coordinator Alton Reynolds said, as several RTD trains swept past a homeless encampment he was visiting just off Kalamath Street in Denver. “If you get hit by a train, you don’t have a chance of getting out of that. But, if I look at the community, and we’re trying to put you in a safe spot — if you get into a shelter, and there’s somebody feeding you and keeping you warm — that’s much better.”
Reynolds is employed by the Jefferson Center for Mental Health, and is now working with RTD on a two-year grant running from January 2022 to January 2024. He comes into the role with two relevant perspectives: a background as a counselor and a former RTD driver himself.
“As a bus operator, one thing I realized for myself: I had homeless individuals who got on my bus… that’s an hour of warmth, versus being kicked off because they smell strong or they don’t look like that other person on the bus,” Reynolds explained. “It let me change my perspective not to immediately say, ‘You need to be off the bus,’ but to find out why you need to be on this bus.”
Denver7 joined Reynolds as he made initial introductions to unhoused individuals in an encampment.
While he tailors each conversation to the person in front of him, he does have an overall agenda. First, he warns of the immediate safety risks at hand, namely the dangers of crossing the RTD rails, and of using propane tanks to heat their camps. He then informs that that while he doesn’t know when police may be through in the coming days to sweep the camp, they may want to consider leaving on their own ahead of time.
At that point, Reynolds offers another proposal: connecting them with a number of services available, from housing to food to mental health.
At the end of each conversation, he hands out a bag containing some clean garments and supplies, a business card with his personal contact information, and a promise of a follow-up visit in the coming days.
“I’m not out to judge you. I’m out here to help you,” Reynolds often tells them. “I’m gonna meet you where you’re at. That’s a big difference between, 'I’m telling you what you need to do. You need to go to detox tomorrow. You need to start getting your life straight.' ... I might not be the person to say a whole lot of information about it, but I can lead them to the right direction and not make any judgements. And then maybe we can get further.”