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"Pam really represents,
I think, the spirit of not giving up
and that is a remarkable
No moon was in sight on a late summer night in 2004 when Pam Deedon
sat in a canvas chair sipping hot tea at a campsite in Clear Creek County,
her four dogs at her side.
The 47-year-old had been parked there for a week or more, living in
a pickup campera faded green model with makeshift wheels that
she moved about the countryside hooked to the hitch of an old Ford Bronco.
At 9 p.m., a car pulled off the road and parked, its engine left running,
its headlamps blinding her view of the driver.
Pam froze when he did not exit immediately.
Was she about to be tortured or raped?
She "freaked out" more during the ruckus that followed. Her
four dogs were sent to investigate, and a large man holding a gun, silhouetted
in the car lights, yelled at her to call them back or he would shoot.
The man would identify himself as a deputy sheriff, though he had used
no flashing lights or siren to identify his vehicle. He would warn Pam
about squatting near the roadside and about her pets, which he said
were a hazard to passers-by.
Magic, a German shepherd who was especially protective of Pam, had bitten
through the deputy's suit pants, and he sent animal control to remove
the dog the next day.
For the next two weeks, Pam couldn't
stop crying or shaking. Later, she appeared in court to pay $180 in
Being homeless has
Pam is one of a growing number of people in Colorado with no permanent
address. Most live in the Denver metro area, but some struggle to survive
in the unincorporated mountain communities of Clear Creek, Jefferson
and Park counties.
For some, shelter consists of a friend's couch, an empty cabin, a car
or cave, because finding a permanent location for camp trailers is virtually
Work-related injuries knocked Pam out of a more productive lifestyle
about five years ago. Before that, she says, she was self-sufficient"the
captain of her own ship."
For the first time in 17 years, the Colorado Division of Housing will
take a statewide count of people like Pam this August. The division
will follow with another count in January to better understand seasonal
Homeless people in the Denver metro area are counted more frequently,
according to Kathi Williams, director of the state housing division.
Recent unofficial counts indicate that homeless numbers for families
have risen. Families used to comprise about 20 percent of the population
but the last count showed 60 percent, which is alarming, Williams said.
Her agency is determined to verify whether those unofficial calculations
are accurate, and it is eager to extend those counts to smaller towns
and mountain communities.
The counts could change the way the state allocates money to assist
those in need, Williams said.
Transitional housing, for example, is catching on for families with
children. They thrive better in home-like environments, as opposed to
living in homeless shelters while parents are learning new skills.
But programs for single adults like Pam are much harder to find.
"There are a lot of people we would like to help, (but) our hands
are really tied," said Tammy Frey, a case manager at a community
center in Clear Creek County. "Single people with no children have
very limited resources."
On a recent Saturday, as Pam prepared to move her tiny camper from one
temporary location in Jefferson County to another, she rifled through
plastic containers of personal belongings too burdensome to keep. Most
had been emptied weeks earlier and donated to a shelter for female victims
of domestic violencehardware items and tools, household and kitchen
utensils, blankets and more. Some of the things gave her pauseletters
from relatives and mementos of her three children, now grown and living
in another state.
"I have this feeling that if I let it go, I won't get it back
but the old life has got to goit's a pile of ashes."
A life marked by formidable challenges, for sure.
Pam was a victim of sexual abuse well before she entered first grade,
she said. The abuse continued, by multiple family members, as she grew.
One of five children, she experienced a different level of rejection
when her father determined that she was not his biological child but
was conceived when her mother had an affair with a truck driver. Her
parents fought over the matter, she remembers, and behaved distant toward
her at times as a result. They divorced when Pam was 8, and her mother
gave her alcohol to help her cope with the pain. By 10, she was a clinical
alcoholic. Her mother's choice of men thereafter exposed Pam to more
unseemly characters, which made marrying young seem like a merciful
At 16, she wed a Vietnam veteran eight years her senior, and soon after
gave birth to a baby girl. That marriage produced two more sons before
she ended it in her early 20s, having tired of her husband's beatings.
She forged ahead without child support, working any jobs she could find
to provide for her familyfrom telemarketing, to housecleaning,
to driving a delivery truck12 to 16 hours a day.
At 26, after two brushes with the law for driving drunk, she quit drinking
cold turkey and says she has remained sober ever since.
"You know the saying 'Walk a mile in my shoes'? Most people would
keel over dead just putting these on," Pam said.
There would be another marriage and another long-term relationship before
she settled for being "very happily single." She and her three
children remained close until they became adults and a rift developed
"My whole life was about themalong with a million mistakes,"
Pam reflected. "It's not like they turned against me; they just
turned awayliving that life took its toll."
Her last connection with them was about six years ago when she scraped
money together quickly to visit her first grandchild when she was born
out of state.
Since then, her existence has been reduced to living in her truck, warming
herself in winter months, when no electric hookups are available, by
means of candles and aluminum foil stuffed in a roasting panan
unimaginable plight for a woman who once considered herself "invincible."
Homelessness set in when neck injuries related to past physical abuses
were compounded over the years by work-related injuries. Eventually,
she became unemployable when the pain was too much to bear.
Josh Johnston, a chiropractor at Vitality Heath Center in Denver, describes
Pam's condition as severe joint degeneration and spinal problems. She
was a "broken shell of a woman" when she began visiting his
office soon after she became homeless, he said.
But Pam, who still can't come to terms with the label "homeless,"
still thought she could overcome the physical problems.
"Nothing ever hurt me," Pam said of the past. "Nothing
ever lastedI just kept thinking, 'I am going to snap out of this
When she didn't, she plummeted into despair and became a mountain recluse.
She moved her pickup camper deep into the woods, surfacing only to use
her food stamps and collect a small disability payment.
"If I would have been in a city, I would have probably blown my
brains out," she said. "The only comfort I had was the beauty
of the mountainsand my dogs. If I was going to be in hellat
least it looked nice."
She was dying, but the littlest things drove her on. Like the comment
one acquaintance made years earlier about a suicide, callously remarking
that the person who died didn't "have the balls to live."
One morning, as she carried a cup of coffee through the wilderness,
a "molecule of hope" stirred inside.
"I'm not so much a fighter anymore; I have some peace," Pam
explained. "I used to fight with God, but you can't really dent
him, so we hugged."
Resurfacing has been
Her lifestyle remains a vulnerable oneoften depending on the decisions
of those who might lend her a hand. And she can get cranky at times,
when people judge her.
"It's kind of common knowledge that most people are about two paychecks
away from being in my shoes," Pam said. "It doesn't take much
to get here."
Once there, it can be tough to escape.
"As far as I am concerned, the system has created disposable human
beings," she said.
Though she gave up alcohol 23 years ago, Pam empathizes with homeless
people who have difficulty doing the same.
"Frankly, I don't know how many times you can go to sleep in a
car or on a park bench and not want to pass out."
Her tenacity continues to inspire others.
"Pam is really a very lovely individual," said her doctor,
Josh Johnston, who treats her damaged vertebrae regardless of whether
she can pay.
"It took a long time over the course of three some odd years, but
she has become a different person," he said. "She already
had that spark in heralways had that little bit of hope and optimismbut
she has turned into a different person
one who is trying to become
who she was meant to be."
Mimi Henry, a transitional living coordinator for the Park County Crisis
Center, also admires Pam's resilience.
"Pam really represents, I think, the spirit of not giving up
and that is a remarkable strength."
On bad days, Pam still considers dashing back to the wilderness. Then
she remembers a promise she made to God the day before her encounter
with the deputy sheriff in 2004a promise to turn the wheel of
her ship over to a better captain.
The incident with the deputy was a painful one, and it eventually forced
her to sign over her beloved dog to a new owner. And when she tried
to park her camper at other locations, law enforcement officials continued
to tell her to move on. Yet she remains pragmatic about the experiences,
considering it might have been God's way of pushing her out of seclusion
and further into society.
At one point, she moved in with a family with five children for a few
months, and remains close to the family today. They too had briefly
experienced homelessness, when the father lost his job as manager of
a warehouse in Arvada and they were forced to live in a borrowed RV.
Pam recently contacted a vocational education group, and an assessment
concluded she has above-average intelligence. Had she lived a different
life, she might have become a lawyer, a detective or maybe a "word
person"maybe even an investigative journalist. When she was
a child, she loved to read and imagined she might someday write a book.
For now, she continues to seek a better life amid the difficult circumstances
of her daily existence. But it can be tough to grapple with the bigger
questions when something as basic as keeping warm in her tiny camper
depends on layers of blankets and blue-jean skirts stitched together
with patches of purple velvet.
"I don't know what it is; I just keep taking steps," Pam said.
"Whatever God's got for me, I think it's going to be coolsomething
I couldn't do on my own. Something meaningful, helpful, beautiful."