With Denver Rents So High, Twenty-somethings Are Turning Group Motel Living Into a Lifestyle
“We are outpricing out our customer to such a degree that I don’t know if anyone will ever want to rent in Denver, again,” an exasperated developer, Rich Clinton, explained to the Colorado Legislature in 2019 while the Senate was considering a bill which addressed rent prices in the state. “I can’t lower my rents in some of my properties because of developer and land owner agreements and because my wait lists would be way too long.”
While Clinton represents a small number of developers, many renters appreciate his take on the issue. Many renters, however, have excused themselves from the discussion entirely. “I’ll never be able to afford anything on my own,” says KiKi Freisse, a 23 year old graphic designer who makes $36K a year. “That’s why I have to live the way I do.”
Friesse is one of a growing number of twenty-somethings who’ve faced eviction or homelessness; banding together to create mobile communes throughout the Denver and Aurora metro area which often times turns out to be a motel with space available. “It started out with about four or five of us, but we’ve kind of grown,” Freisse says.
True to form, they’ve turned their hardship into humor - christening themselves names like “JoJo’s Army,” “Super 8 Balls,” and “Circus Jerk-us.” “I started calling us Circus Jerk-Us because I feel like this economy’s a big fucking circus, and all they do is jerk us around,” says defacto group founder, Dillon ‘Day Day’ Boisert.
The co-ops have met through social networks or mutual friends. Often they seek motels with enough available rooms for the whole group - as many as 20 at a time, we’re told. “I can’t even afford a car to sleep in, so this saves me a lot of money,” Gerad Willow, 22, and KiKi’s boyfriend laments to the Rooster.
As many as five might share a room, renting whole floors where labor is divided, pooling money for food, incidentals, transportation, recreation and drugs. Some stay in the rooms and watch children or shop while others go to 9-5 jobs, school, or day labor.
“I wasn’t able to work for a while because of a torn Achilles tendon,” say Boisert. “I was doing under the table work for a contractor and he didn’t have insurance or workman’s comp., so I ended up homeless with a daughter.” That’s when Boisert spoke to a young couple who were friends of his and couldn’t afford childcare; the Circus Jerk-us co-op was born.
Over time, the group’s grown to at least a dozen full time members. “Others filter in and out, depending on their situation,” says Freisse. Although the co-ops seem like places of peace and a chance to get ahead, or at least caught up, financially, Freisse explains they’re anything but safe. “There are guys who’ve come in and tried to assault some of the women, even some of the guys. Kids are here, so we try to keep them with trusted people but that isn’t always possible. People steal every fucking thing that isn’t nailed down.”
Their gypsy lifestyle does offer some perks. “I try to convince the guys to get a place with a pool,” Freisse says. “Food is usually good and someone’s always got a cigarette or a joint or a shot of Jack.”
“It isn’t an ideal situation for anyone,” says an Arapahoe County Sheriff Deputy who wishes to remain confidential. “People are victimized in these groups and a lot of the kids won’t say anything because they have warrants, they’re using drugs, or because they’re afraid of bring attention to the group.”
Metro Denver is not unique in this type of communal living says Boisert. Boisert spent years travelling as a Dyson Vacuum salesman and often stayed with similarly set-up co-ops in other cities. “Once word gets out that you’re cool, it makes it kind of easy to find a place to crash for a few days or weeks or whatever.”
The problems that resulted in co-op living are being examined by law enforcement, government agencies, homeless coalitions, and even colleges.
Red Rocks Community College announced in December 2019 that it was opening a homeless shelter which would house degree seeking students.“This population of students is far greater than you would imagine,” said Stephanie Studebaker, a Red Rocks Community College employee and liaison between the school and The Action Center — a Jefferson County nonprofit organization that offers food, clothing and housing help to those in need — to establish a shelter to house about a dozen students.
“These people are coming to me because they want to make their life better,” Red Rocks’ Studebaker said. “They want to get trained for a job so they can put food on the table or a roof over their head.”
But Red Rocks is not alone in the college’s work to help it’s students survive in order to thrive. Numerous Colorado colleges and universities are also grappling with student hunger. At least eight campuses in the state have opened food pantries, four of them in the last five years.
The two that do not have brick-and-mortar food pantries, Colorado State University-Fort Collins and the University of Colorado-Boulder, have other food assistance programs for their students, including a mobile food pantry.
“We didn’t have the same kind of concerns [10 years ago] that we do now have today,” Father Mark McGregor mentioned to a circle of people gathered in Regis’s Dayton Memorial Library when that university’s food pantry opened in the fall of 2018.
This gives the young people who live in the co-op little comfort but a lot of hope. “I heard about colleges doing these really cool things to help us get an education and even eat, I should look into it,” Freise tells Boisert.
“We gotta find a MoMo closer to the airport so the guys can get to work on time … college can wait,” he replies.