The Face of Hunger

Colorado is the 16th-wealthiest state in the nation. So why are so many of our neighbors still having trouble putting food on the table?

September 2007

Eduardo Jimenez

With his possessions in a backpack at his feet and an uncertain glance at the translator, Eduardo Jimenez pushes a tattered folder across the table at Denver Rescue Mission's Lawrence Street Shelter. Inside are documents—some medical, some for identification. Jimenez, 37, can't read them; born in Juarez, Mexico, he is a legal alien who began ranching cattle full-time at age 12 and never attended school. What he does know is that he came to the United States for a better life, and that dream is vanishing quickly.

For 14 years he's been carrying what he believes to be a sexually transmitted disease, contracted a few years after he crossed the border into El Paso in 1989. The symptoms are so unbearable that he can't hold a steady job; he's worked four times in the last seven months, doing yard work and moving furniture. With the gradual loss of his house, car, and all semblance of a "better life," Jimenez came to Denver several months ago seeking treatment. But doctors here continue to send him away undiagnosed, hastily referred elsewhere, and with little hope for a cure. The temporary pain medication they do prescribe makes him so sluggish he has trouble waking up—making it difficult to stick to a schedule, receive regular meals, secure a shelter bed, and keep health appointments. "When I take medication and I can't find a place to sleep, I sleep under a bridge or in an alley," he says through the translator. "Sometimes I make it over to the Rescue Mission at 12 o'clock to eat, and sometimes I'm too out of it from my medicine to make it."

Jimenez's support system is almost non-existent. He's never received federal assistance, and he splits his days between the St. Francis Center day shelter, the Rescue Mission, and the banks of the South Platte, getting meals when he can. "I have no words for the shame," he says. "Many call me lazy and worthless, but I've learned to shut them off. I'm not on drugs, and I'm not an alcoholic. All I am is sick. They've always told me my condition is not curable. But my hope and prayer is that they are able to help me. I see myself being healthy and functional with a roof over my head and enough to eat, getting help from some kind of government agency—because I have worked. I have paid into Social Security. I have these rights, as a legal immigrant and as a human being."