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Homeless in Denver: When bad luck strikes, worlds turn upside down

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Posted at 3:05 PM, Sep 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-02 19:22:39-04

DENVER -- Like many among the homeless population in Denver, Jonathan Williams is down on his luck, but he's banking on that changing. He has goals. 

Williams, a 56-year-old Pikes Peak Community College graduate, laid alongside Speer Boulevard Friday wrapped in an American Flag towel. He tells his story to those who will listen.

"Bad luck just strikes," Williams said of his journey from owning a home with his wife to living on the streets. 

For Williams, it wasn't drugs, gambling or even the stock market that led to his current situation -- his life just took an unfortunate turn.

In 1988, he and his wife divorced. He said his wife got custody of his two kids, and he had to start making child support payments. After losing three jobs, he finally had few other options -- he downsized from a house to a small apartment in Denver.

He said he had his own place until 2009, when he had a heart attack and a stroke. 

In the midst of those medical emergencies and dealing with diabetes, he says he registered for disability assistance. But his disability checks weren't enough to cover the cost of skyrocketing rent.

Colorado's population has grown quickly -- more rapidly than new housing and new apartment units can be built to combat climbing prices. 

Williams called that a problem. One that he blames for putting him on the streets. 

Quoting a Notorious B.I.G. song, Williams said, "It's like Puff Daddy said, 'Mo money, mo problems.' But more people, more problems." 

Despite his homelessness, Williams said he has a daily routine and tries to work when he can. He buys a monthly bus pass and uses resources like shelters to receive "two or three square [meals] a day." 

The City of Denver, however, has become too full of homeless people, Williams said, and there hasn't been a corresponding increase in services for those in need. 

"They're not doing enough," Williams said. "Comparing the rest of the population to the homeless population, it's not enough." 

Williams said he frequently meets people on the streets who formerly had successful careers, including lawyers and doctors. 

He added that he'd like to see more shelters, especially in the winter when they're most crowded. He cited safety concerns, tapping his backpack as he said, "You have to watch out." 

The glass is half full to Williams, who said he believes if he meets the right person, he'll be able to put a roof over his head again and rebuild his life. 

"I'm glad I'm still alive," Williams said as he patted his heart.  

See more from Denver7's Homeless in Denver: Behind the Sign series below.

Laundry truck offers clean laundry and dignity. 

Many homeless residents choose the streets over shelters.

Homeless in Denver: Behind the Sign. 

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