Last Thanksgiving, Tony Jones shopped for more than $100 in food stamps to buy three turkeys, mounds of mashed potatoes and gravy, and King Soopers macaroni and cheese.
It was a fitting — and somewhat lavish — meal for a man living on the streets of downtown Denver — a meal he shared with about 80 other homeless residents.
“And they ate all the food, thank goodness,” Jones, 63, said. “They only left the dead body with me. I didn’t even get my turkey leg.
A year later, Jones still doesn’t have much to do. He often sleeps in his car, a brown Subaru with a starter motor that won’t turn and the driver’s side window is taped shut because someone hit it with a rock.
And he dies. He’s already dead.
But despite his battle with cancer, multiple heart attacks and what little he has, Jones plans to once again spread Thanksgiving among the homeless in his part of town. There won’t be turkey or any of the traditional side dishes this year, but there will be chili — at least six jars of it — to feed the dozens of neighbors who also scrounge the streets.
Tony Jones, 63, at the corner of Josephine and East Colfax, where he held a sign for hours during the day. (Colorado Sun via Olivia Sun, reporting for the US) Jones now sells phones to phone repair workers and more, helping with cleaning jobs and helping others near Colfax who need to find permanent housing Let’s Struggle (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
Working with local businesses whose employees have grown closer to her than many members of her family, Jones will host a Thanksgiving gathering chili cookoff Friday in the parking lot of the store and restaurant located around the corner from East Colfax. is. Avenue and Josephine Street. And he’s calling on the community to donate warm clothes, blankets and money so he can buy long underwear and thick socks and a few extra dollars to help them survive the coming winter months.
It’s a gesture of both thanks and giving from a man who depends on the same businesses he used to handle. In exchange for their generosity, he helped them behind the scenes, tried to keep the surrounding neighborhood safe, and just listened.
Jones, who has been homeless for four years, has been stuck on that street corner for a year and a half holding a sign that says, “Homeless and Hungry. everything helps. Lost everything because of my cancer.
At that time he was sleeping under a shade of trees just off an alley in Cheesman Park, where he put on a layer of cardboard and a blanket or sheet and tried to shake off the cold. He’s chased Sleep to all sorts of places in Denver that he can easily dissuade, including an empty house on Colfax Avenue and Race Street and a sand field along Akron and 14th Streets.
“It’s been tough,” says Jones, who estimates she’s lost 70 pounds from her illness and lost most of her teeth. “It’s been tough. And I learned a lot. It is not easy.”
Jones has been homeless for four years and often sleeps in his car when he is not in the repair shop. Cheeseman Park is a place where Jones used to sleep for its seclusion and shelter from the trees. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
But Jones hasn’t always teetered on the brink of stability. He moved to Denver in 1980 and the following year opened a janitorial business, which he operated for nine years, followed by a tow truck business, which he operated for five years. He later started two restaurants: one was Rocking Roosters Wings With An Attitude on the border of Denver and Aurora, and then Wolfe’s, which he founded with a business partner in Aurora. He closed both restaurants.
“And then it went downhill from there,” said Jones.
He said he was first diagnosed with lung cancer four or five years ago. It has now spread all over his body – “from my toes to the top of my head.” The doctors told him three times that he should have been dead already. He hasn’t listened to her since then, tired of the depression that followed her diagnosis.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Jones said.
But he may feel weak, having trouble keeping his balance while walking; tingling in his legs, arms and hands; and pain that leaves him exhausted and unable to move. Sometimes his urine turns red with blood.
Cancer has also taken away his ability to work continuously. While seeking treatment, Jones often couldn’t make it work and was fired from setting up events. Other employers would turn him away because they needed someone they could count on full-time.
In the end he created a cardboard sign.
“The only thing I could think of doing is making a sign,” Jones said.
Jones sells phones, does cleaning jobs, and helps people around Colfax who are struggling to find permanent homes. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun Via Report for America) Jones often helps sell refurbished and discounted phones, mostly Apple iPhones, phone repairs and others.
“Homeless people deserve love too”
Traffic and passers-by didn’t even notice him.
Jojo Martinez, owner and operator of Phone Repair & More Denver on East Colfax Avenue, was preparing to open her business about three years ago when Jones asked her about the odd jobs hanging around the corner as they tried to pick up change. . contacted.
Martinez was apprehensive at first, but not for long, as Jones was persistent and showed the entrepreneur how reliable he was.
“It’s hard not to like them right away,” Martinez said, adding, “Little by little, we started to trust them more and more.”
He cleared snow and cared for the parking lot, tried to make the area safe by openly urging those using drugs to leave, a challenge in a neighborhood where drug abuse, gunfire and stabbings plague businesses and poses a threat to a nearby high school. The job comes at a high price: Jones’s own well-being. Two and a half months ago, someone robbed her, hit her twice on the head, cut under her nose and broke her nose two blocks from a phone repair shop, and sent her to the hospital for stitches.
Learned Lemur managers Tony Jones and Bex Schmöller admire a stuffed boa snake on a wall. Jones has found shelter and community with several entrepreneurs on East Colfax. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
Still, Jones remains a defender of East Colfax Avenue, watching storefronts and checking with business owners like Bex Schmoller, gallery and curiosities store The Learned Lemur, to see if they have anything to offer. Need help He helped Schmöller build dressing rooms for the monthly sideshows he held in his shop. And the help he gives often comes with a smile and a joke.
“He’s great to be around,” she said, “and he’s one of the Colfax faces we love to see.”
Jones has also become the right hand of security for Regina Gayton, an East Colfax Avenue subway manager whom Jones met about two years ago.
Whenever anyone in the restaurant gets agitated and won’t leave, she turns to Jones to intervene and bangs on the wall where he spends most of his days.
He also ducks down when he needs bug squash, when he needs food — bringing her Red Bull and gummies on the way from a convenience store or cooking his burritos — and when his truck breaks down. Or when she breaks down in tears in her truck and needs someone to help her through a bad day.
“He takes care of everyone,” Gaten said. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s someone to look to if you need him, but he’s always there for you.”
She calls him the brother she never had.
To Martinez, Jones is more like an uncle—someone who is constantly there to provide support, someone who motivates her to do better, and someone to join her on family vacations. The two consider each other family, and Jones is someone Martinez relies on to solve her daily weather challenges. He does maintenance jobs and takes care of Martinez’s dogs, Kratos and Dracula, and also sells appliances, checks on customers and begins to learn how to fix phones.
JoJo Martinez, owner and operator of Phone Repair & More, was preparing to open her business about three years ago when Jones approached her about taking odd jobs to try and collect change. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
“Everyone deserves a chance,” Martinez said. “It’s been a very hard road, and when you see someone go out of their way to help others, they definitely deserve another chance.”
Matt Kinslow, the owner and operations manager of the phone repair shop, said he’s different from the many other regulars who line East Colfax Avenue, some of whom are battling and others battling addiction.
“You can tell he’s trying,” Kinslow said.
In exchange for Jones’ hours on the clock, Martinez and Kinslow pay him a commission on the equipment he sells. They also open a back room in the store for Jones to sleep in and hope he will work full-time to help with marketing so he can one day afford his own place.
“He doesn’t ask for much, but I want him to do better,” said Martinez.
Jones knows the streets and knows how to talk to people on the street – whether it’s spreading information about Martinez’s phone repair shop or turning drug users away from blocks away.
Martinez said, “I think because he’s been in their shoes, they have a lot of respect for him.”
Jones wishes more people would try to get out and understand the hard obstacles life on the street brings. Many people think that homeless residents are dirty. Some people said he even spit on it.
“Homeless people deserve love too,” he said. “They deserve someone to take care of them. Many of them have no family here. They have nowhere to go. I think let Tony be family.The Chili Cook-Off will be held Friday at noon in front of Phone Repair & More Denver, 2344 E. Colfax Ave. Call the store at 720-809-9999 to donate clothing, blankets, or money.
Tony “is the brother I never had,” says Regina Gayton, an executive at Subway who has known Jones for two years. Jones has found shelter and community with several entrepreneurs on East Colfax. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)