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Beggars and bums

Gary Lindstrom

Dumpster diving is not a sport. It is a lifestyle for some people in Colorado.

By definition, Dumpster diving is an activity of some people who must dine on half-eaten hamburgers and french fries in the trash receptacles outside fast-food restaurants. Oh, yummy. Someone’s leftovers become someone else’s dinner. One person’s trash becomes another’s treasure.

On my weekly trips to Boulder, I have the chance to witness this part of our community.

For many years, men and women selling newspapers populated the medians of Boulder’s main streets. Ordinances were passed recently making this illegal. Their spaces on the highways and byways were sublet to the homeless or the homeless pretenders.

It almost becomes a creative writing contest. The most recent winner was a young man with a hand-lettered sign proclaiming, “Having a Big Mac Attack. I need $4.50.” You have to give him credit for having a good imagination. You also have to give some credit to the people I saw handing him money.

I have seen a woman who was at least nine-and-a-half-months pregnant holding a sign that simply said, “Hungry.” If nothing else, you would want to give her money just to get out of traffic and take her unborn baby out of harm’s way.

The people who use props are especially interesting. There was a fellow recently who had a brand-new pair of crutches. He was leaning on them looking very pathetic the first time I drove by. Later I saw the same man standing unassisted looking relatively healthy with the crutches on the pavement several feet away. I had witnessed a miracle.

A man in a wheelchair had the same divine recovery. He was hunched over in his wheelchair looking as if he were near death. Later he was standing upright holding his sign with the chair neatly folded against the traffic signal pole.

Must have something to do with all the positive psychic energy in Boulder. Good karma as all of the old VW vans go whizzing by with tie-dye attired drivers and passengers.

I have seen a mom with three kids standing on the median in traffic begging for money. Imagine using your children as props. What a tragedy.

You see Vietnam vets holding signs, “I gave, now it is your turn to give.” Our veterans deserve so much better than having to beg on a street corner.

When I was in the Sheriff’s Office, we had reports of a mother and daughter living in Dumpsters in Summit County. They were seen going through the trash at local restaurants and asking for handouts in various parking lots. What a shame. It is hard to imagine that anyone would have to do that as an adult, let alone to drag a child into that lifestyle.

When I was growing up in Iowa, I remember people begging from door to door. We called them hobos, and they still have a celebration, “Hobo Days”, in Britt, Iowa. Somehow there was some mystique or sense of dignity associated with these people who “rode the rails.”

We are not immune here in paradise. I can remember a mother and daughter eating and living in a Dumpster by a restaurant. Another man froze his legs sleeping in a Dumpster and had to have his legs amputated. He eventually died.

There is no dignity standing on the curb in Boulder with a dirty, hand-scrawled sign begging for money. It is sad to see people panhandling and begging. It has nothing to do with the economy or Sept. 11.

I wish I had an answer to this problem. I wish we could create a positive change in the lives of these people. If wishes could come true, then we would have a perfect world. I wish.

Gary Lindstrom is a Summit County Commissioner and regular columnist for the Summit Daily News.


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