THE BLOG
11/25/2010 10:17 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Thanksgiving in Five Points: Poverty and Plenty

Young, white people love living in transitional neighborhoods in big cities -- me included. However, living in these areas often puts you face-to-face with some sobering realities of life in the city.

My wife and I live on the border of Whittier and Five Points in Denver. Our neighborhood is a mish-mash of everything from Section 8 housing to renovated Victorians. We rent a modest turn of the century row home.

I can't tell you how many times a week I name-drop where I live. I love the variety of responses I receive.

If I am talking to older Denverites, they usually respond with shock. They remember my neighborhood before it began to gentrify and can't fathom a skinny, white guy surviving in the "hood."

Young, hipster-types always think I am very edgy and "authentic." For hipsters, one of the cardinal sins you can commit is moving to the suburbs. In reality I'm not a hipster, I'm just cheap.

My older sister gets scared when I talk about my neighborhood. This really works to my advantage because she won't just drop her kids off for me to babysit. She's terrified of coming near my house. For her, Downing Street (which borders my neighborhood) might as well be the 38th parallel.

In spite of what anyone thinks, Five Points and Whittier are both a far cry from what they were twenty years ago. They aren't the hives of shady characters that most people perceive them to be from afar.

I've never been mugged, and the closest thing I've ever seen to a gang fight has been watching a pug and French Bulldog nip at each other in the dog park that's a few blocks away.

Crime isn't the biggest problem in my neighborhood. Poverty is. In fact, it's a problem in all of Denver. According to the most recent census data, the number of impoverished families in Denver has increased from 10.6 percent in 1999 to 14.7 percent in 2009.

This reality really hit home a couple of weeks ago on the way home from an afternoon jog. I witnessed an incident that I'd previously only seen in underdeveloped countries.

I happened upon two Latino mothers foraging in the dumpsters behind my house. Each of them had a toddler bundled up and seated in the front seats of bobsled-style double strollers.

The mothers had the back seats of their strollers piled high with aluminum cans and an assortment of other reclaimed household goods. They were both hunched over garbage cans with their backs to me, so I stared with complete impunity.

The disparity of the situation struck me. A few steps behind me in my house were all the amenities that I can't seem to live without as a middle class American. My 1080p flat screen television, stainless steel appliances, and Fig Newtons are just a few of my "essentials."

I gazed long enough that one of the boys caught me. When we locked eyes, I knew that the gig was up so I hastily retreated into the comfort of my home. I quickly closed the blinds and insulated myself from the scene and the child's piercing brown eyes as best as I could.

He was young enough that I doubt he will remember me or the incident. But I won't forget him anytime soon.

Most people this time of year begin to suffer from compassion fatigue. So I'm not going to waste time lecturing or soliciting. It would be impossible for me to top Sarah McLachlan and her one-eyed puppy commercials.

The economy is bad and the job market is bad. However, if Thanksgiving isn't as decadent or Christmas as lucrative as it usually is, it could always be worse. That was the lesson I learned from my alleyway encounter.

Give thanks and if you have a little extra spread it around.