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Wednesday, November 27,2013

Terminally homeless in Boulder

Man struggles with kidney failure while living on the streets

By Jefferson Dodge
Photo by Jefferson Dodge
Shannon Balousek with her sign

Jason Balousek suffers from kidney failure and has been told he only has a matter of weeks to live.


When he heard that news, it made him happy, much to his doctor’s surprise.

At this point, he says, death is preferable to the life he’s been leading.

* * * *

Jason is homeless. He wanders downtown Boulder streets with his wife, Shannon, who suffers from mental illness. People see his four broken dialysis ports, the damaged veins on his arms, and think he’s hooked on drugs. One time at a 7-Eleven a worker told him, “You people keep clogging the toilets with your needles.”

People have associated symptoms of his polycystic kidney condition, hypertension and pancreatitis with being drunk. They see the 42-year-old’s tattoos and assume he got those while he was in prison. He gets hassled by authority figures more when he wears short-sleeved shirts that expose his ink.

But he says he never does drugs, doesn’t drink and has never been to prison.

He emphasizes that the kidney failure was not caused by alcohol abuse. It is a genetic condition he inherited from his mother.

“I’m so sick of being treated like a criminal, like I’ve done something wrong,” Jason says. “Not everyone out here is a drunk. Not everyone out here does drugs. … Stuff like that drives me insane.”

The dialysis ports, or “fistulas,” that doctors have tried to implant keep breaking and are impossible to keep clean because of his homeless lifestyle.

“They don’t understand that carrying a backpack all day, sleeping on the concrete at night, it’s just not possible,” he wrote on the Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow Facebook page. “Part of why I quit going to dialysis completely was because after a treatment I would be so exhausted. Where did they expect me to rest? I would get a ticket for sleeping.”

Now he’s sitting outside a coffee shop near the Pearl Street Mall where the tables and chairs are chained to a pole to keep them from being stolen. Shannon stands behind him, puts her arms around his shoulders and laments the city’s anti-camping ordinance, which has made it against the law to sleep under any kind of shelter, even a blanket or tarp.

“It’s illegal to sleep,” she says. “You’ll get a camping ticket.”

“I have no place to lay down,” Jason adds.

* * * *

“We just fell through the cracks,” Shannon says of what happened to the couple during the past three years.

“I just got sick,” Jason explains, recounting the path that led him to this place. The Chicago native says his parents split when he was a baby, and he spent a lot of time in foster homes growing up. Up until a few years ago, Jason was working two jobs, at a motel and restaurant, seven days a week in Madison, Wis. His condition, in which the kidneys stop filtering out toxins, worsened, to the point where the only thing he could consume without throwing up was milk.

“I drank a gallon of milk a day for six months,” he says.

He put off going to the doctor because he couldn’t afford it. But one day he was so sick he had to go to the hospital, where he was told he’d need dialysis the rest of his life — or a transplant.

A surgical procedure to place a catheter in his chest for dialysis treatments created a clot in his heart. The motel closed, and Jason lost the other job because the kidney failure and associated medications made him too dizzy to work — or, as Shannon describes it, “He was a zombie.”

The medical complications continued, even worsened, in part because he could no longer work and didn’t have the money for proper treatment.

“So I kind of freaked out and hopped a bus to Colorado,” says Jason, who as a kid had once seen the Rocky Mountains in Montana. “I wanted to be close to the mountains when I die.”

The couple was in Manitou Springs when Jason had a seizure and ended up breaking two fistulas that had been implanted.

“Being homeless is not conducive to recovering from surgery,” Shannon says.

Jason adds, “They expect me to walk around homeless with a tube hanging out of my chest.”

Since he could not seem to keep the fistulas clean and intact, he was forced to have emergency dialysis at the hospital every three to four months. But now he’s all but given up on treating his condition.

“I’m really frustrated these days,” Jason says. “I’m not sure what to do. I’m done with dialysis, that’s for sure. I’m done. I’d rather have quality of life instead of quantity at this point.”

* * * *

The couple has two sons, age 9 and 7, who live with Shannon’s aunt and uncle in Wisconsin. Jason says he doesn’t like his kids seeing him in the hospital.

“The kids don’t know how sick I am,” he whispers, as if they are nearby.

He has older kids, too, from previous relationships: a 20-year-old son, a 22-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old daughter. He recently returned to Wisconsin to visit one of them and ended up in the emergency room for dialysis, during which he vomited, messing up the needles and causing his arm to swell up.

In Boulder, the two regularly eat meals at the Bridge House, and Shannon “flies a sign” at the McDonald’s on Baseline. Her sign reads, “McHungry! McThank You! I Love Nuggets!” She mentions “McHippies,” one of her favorite Facebook groups.

Shannon says the couple can’t make it back to their usual campsite near the west end of Arapahoe Avenue anymore because Jason can’t walk that far.

He gets only about $280 of his $750 disability check because of deductions for child support and Medicare. Jason figures he’s been in the hospital 18 times in the last two years.

“I can’t seem to stay out of the place,” he says. “I can’t do it anymore. It’s an impossible scenario, is what it is.”

Shannon walks down the sidewalk for a smoke, and Jason confides that he’s gotten into some fights because other homeless guys hit on her. He says predators see a woman on the street as prey.

“To be honest, I can’t really call this living anymore,” he wrote on the BOHO Facebook page. “I’m looking forward to getting off such a cruel planet. This is the only light at the end of this tunnel.”

But as defeated as he seems, Jason hasn’t given up on the idea that he still has some rewarding moments left with his wife.

“I guess we’re just waiting for fate together, and trying to have as many good days as we can,” he says as Shannon returns to the table.

* * * *

“I wanted to share my story more than anything because I am so tired of this attitude that because someone is homeless they must have ‘done something wrong,’” Jason concludes in his Facebook post. “Not all of us are here because of decisions we have made. Not all of us are here because of poor life choices. I was given no choice in this.

“At this point I feel more sorry for all of you,” he writes. “I will be dead soon and won’t have to deal with all of this hate and indifference anymore. I just hope my story might help someone else in the future.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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So wait let me get this Straight: your reporter talks to a panhandler for 15 minutes, doesn't do a single lick of investigative work (like, say, looking for a possible criminal record, medical records to verify his story, calling the relative in Wisconsin, etc) and just... takes a panhandler's sob story as the unvarnished truth and actually *reports that garbage as NEWS?* ... Someone needs to be fired. The editor for allowing this to be published.

Oh and hey here's a great article from across the mountains in Utah where they acutally know how to do an investigative story. Guess what? Panhandling is a major business. Maybe you could learn something from these reporters; they actually seem to know how to do their jobs!



Really dude...this hateful comment is what you have in response to this story? You truly could not find anything better to say or in a nicer way? In response to your questions regarding medical background check; the exposed fistulas are not evidence enough? They are implanted surgically you know. Its a little difficult to hide that fact and unreasonable to think such needs much more verification than to see them disappear under the skin and into a vein...especially when they're implanted in someones chest. Now I won't debate you on the aspect of pan handling being a big business as it were, but you sorta prove this particular man's point regarding the hate and ignorance he faces by your comments. This wasn't a story about "homelessness" in general...it's a story about one mans circumstances and his desire to die rather than continue to face the likes of your kind of person. Sad thing is...one day very soon you may be in the same position and its my hope that if you are you wont have to face the things this man is facing. Although in all truth, there is a side of me that hopes you will face the same thing and worse as this man has. Prayer is free, you may not want to reach out to these people in any tangible ways, but in whatever way you pray for your family and friends, including him and his would be far better than the crap you spewed here.


If you want "hard NEWS", don't read the Boulder Weekly... This is supposed to be a compelling story.


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I like the helpful information you provide in your articles I will bookmark your blog and check again here regularly I am quite certain I will learn a lot of new stuff right here Best of luck for the next. Skin Lightener



I like your articles Jeff and you've focused on the community and the homeless for a number of occasions. I do wonder if the homeless population have asked for shelter and temporary housing and wonder why they found Boulder to be a place for panhandling. I've worked with the homeless for 15 yrs and most flock to capital cities because that's where they find community and another thing, is because they aren't as judged as they would be if they were in Cherry Hills or in Centennial. What makes Boulder and Denver so appealing since everywhere in Colorado is snowy. I am also sad that the homeless cannot have welfare or medicaid or food stamps. It's pretty baffling, but still...why Boulder? Is is because everyone is pro-liberal?



Not everyone who is homeless is horrible P.W. Yeah, some make up sob stories, but the majority don't. We are human. We get sick of being treated like we are terrible people. Life handed us a crap hand and this is how we deal. I hope one day you get the pleasure of experiencing life from our side. Let's see how truthful you stay. Let's see how long it takes before you're bitter and depressed because everyone "better than us" looks down upon you. 


so calm your high and mighty tits there lady. This wasn't a horrible story.


"[I'm] not horrible." "I hope you become homeless."


So you just believe anything anyone tells you all of the time no matter what? And that's what you want from journalists. This is their freakin JOB they could at least make an effort to research whether or not the guy is telling the truth, that's what they get PAID TO DO. But no you're right let's just pretend that this journalist knows what he's doing when he clearly doesn't. Good job!


Wow...I didn't even see this comment you made PW. You truly are an ass of immeasurable proportions! I guess you dont kniw how to read. The author of this article found about this man from the Homeless shelters FaceBook page, he then went out to the streets to find this man. He describes in detail what he sees on the man (fistulas), what he experiences first hand while visiting with the man (dialysis ports) and his wife (the one in the picture). This is investigative journalism at it finest. A reporter hears or reads something newsworthy, follows up in person and reports what he sees and experiences. If ever I get the chance to meet you PW...I will bitch slap for being a bad human! In the meantime I will pray for your sorry ass, I hope my prayers for you are answered before we get a chance to meet.


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I had a chance to see these comments and will be happy to provide complete documentation to anyone who might challenge my story they're are medical records as well as scars. I even have a document from Dr. Heather Certain MD. Meriter hospital of Madison WI that states I have less than a year to live. I asked her to put my condition in writing in case of such accusations.  This is no joke. I am dying and my email address is Jason a louse kg mail.com. please feel free to send me a requst for any documentation you would like friend. I will be happy to send it. I tried to just post it here but there is too much. I would also be willing to sign releases of my info from Boulder Community and Meriter hospitals. Or you could contact one of the five different dialysis clinics that I have received treatments at.

Thank you who have supported me through this. I would also like to mention that I am not a "panhandler" I worked two jobs which there are also records of until I got hospitalized. I was at Chili's for four years before I got sick. Should I track down the w2's for you as well?


I am dying out here because noone really cares. Its that simple. I can only hope my story might help some other poor soul with no options.


Jason William Balousek SR.





I'm jason oldest daughter from madison. He is very ill I wanted him to stay in madison but he has given up. I just wish I had more time with him. :( 



My father passed away 01-23-15 and I really feel if there would have been more people out there trying to help then just fucking saying stupid shit like someone the people who comment on this my father maybe still alive. I'm 23 and my father never got to see his grandchildren or his kids get married etc. just something for you nasty people to think about.


Kristin, My condolences for your loss. I'm confused, however. How is it that he's got fully grown children and they can't provide any assistance to him? Isn't he your responsibility? Couldn't you let him stay in your house? Is there some compelling reason why not, such that you'd let him die on the street? How about purchasing a camper for him, or sending enough money (together with the other adult child) to let him have a studio apartment? This doesn't make any sense to me at all. You're the first person in the world who should have stepped up. -BL