The Manitou Springs Homeless: A Lifestyle Preference
Manitou Springs, Colorado is known as a metaphysical mecca replete with natural mineral springs, eclectic shops, and a diverse population, to include a noticeable homeless community. Wanting to learn more about this, two of my Pikes Peak Community College classmates and I decided to spend some time with the Manitou homeless, hoping to gain insight into how they live and interact with those around them. Our discoveries were interesting, to say the least. More than anything else, we found out that a number of Manitou homeless people do not fit into two common subcultures: the chronically homeless (those who make an active decision to remain homeless for an extended time); and the homeless by circumstance (those who are homeless through no fault of their own). In fact, most of the displaced citizens of Manitou have some form of income and places to stay, and they choose homelessness for the experience. Misguided perceptions of the Manitou homeless can be corrected by abandoning worn-out stereotypical views and gaining a deeper understanding of the complex lifestyle of this unique culture.
The first big surprise for me was learning that many of the Manitou homeless are students, veterans, or part-time employees, each collecting some form of income. Of those I interviewed, three of them were young adults, and all three were going to college at the Pikes Peak Community College Downtown Studio Campus. I must confess, I would have never thought that these “outsiders” were pursuing goals and getting college degrees as I am. Moreover, these college students are receiving up to $17,000 a school year from financial aid alone. Of course, they don’t receive all of the $17,000 due to school expenses, but they do qualify for work-study, giving them approximately $6,000 in their pocket in addition to the refunds they get back each year. Being homeless, they have minimal everyday living expenses, so most of the time, they just buy what they need to survive, with a few exceptions here and there for non-essentials. The rest of their money is saved, which eventually adds up.
The elderly homeless population in Manitou also receives income. One man nicknamed “Tader” explained that he receives veteran benefits and Social Security checks, along with performance money from passersby. This doesn’t sound like much, but again, being homeless in Manitou is an experience certain people choose, not because they have to but because they prefer to, leaving them room to save their money, spend it how they wish, and live the way they want.
Manitou’s transient community is tighter than some might expect. Every homeless person I interviewed, and the many volunteers with whom I spoke, agreed that they were each other’s family. They provide for each other, communicate intimately, and share the same experience of homelessness. In fact, they’re such a tightknit culture, they give each other family names like “Grandpa Tader” and introduce each other as family members like “brother” and “sister.” At times, my classmates and I felt as if we were part of their family, too. Even in the short time we spent with them, they were already inviting us to participate in their performances and join in their communal functions.
This close bond applies to living arrangements as well. Of the people I met, all of them reside in one central location, sharing living expenses, food, and other amenities. In the summer, this is less common since they tend to live outdoors because of the warmer temperatures, but in the colder seasons, they all pitch in to rent motel rooms or apartments to live in and share. I always thought it was every man for himself in the transient community, but just by spending some time with these people, I realized the deep connection that they have with each other. Furthermore, this connection is intertwined with a shared belief in community, love, peace, acceptance, and happiness. These intrinsic beliefs and shared rapport are what keep many of the homeless in Manitou homeless.
Manitou is a one-of-a-kind city, and the homeless who reside there are, too. By actively participating in and investigating the truth of these individuals’ lives, my classmates and I unearthed a culture we never expected and one we felt privileged to have discovered and learned about. The inaccurate and unfair judgments that surround the Manitou homeless are derived from hasty generalizations and intolerance. In reality, the way they choose to live is more similar to the rest of society than many might suspect, with a few notable differences. This just goes to show that having preconceived ideologies about an individual or a group only limits the human experience and one’s opportunity for growth.