Dying in our streets

Boulder can't find a place for homeless woman with cancer | by Greg Campbell, Nov. 16, 1995

Boulder Weekly Staff | Boulder Weekly

The job of journalists is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” In November 1995, it would have been hard to find anyone in Boulder more afflicted and uncomfortable than Anita Belletti. When Boulder Weekly interviewed Belletti, she was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. Unlike most people undergoing cancer treatment, Belletti didn’t have a bed to crawl into or bathroom to use when the treatments made her feel sick. She was homeless.

Belletti had come to Boulder from California to be near her daughter, having fought breast cancer into remission. She had originally lived with a friend in Section 8 housing, but the city Housing Authority gave her the boot because she wasn’t related to the leaseholder. Moving in with her daughter, who was near homeless herself, wasn’t an option. When Belletti had applied for aid, she was told by the city that she didn’t qualify for any of its programs.

Then the cancer returned, and Belletti found herself fighting for her life and living in her Ford Pinto in the cold of winter.

After the story ran, offers of assistance from concerned readers swamped Boulder Weekly’s phone system. One of the many calls we received came from the Boulder County Housing Authority, which arranged to house both Belletti and her daughter. By Christmas, the two were safely under one roof.

Boulder Weekly stayed in touch with Belletti after that. She told reporters how the people of Boulder had made her feel at home and at peace with their concern and generosity. She said she wished she had some way to thank the public.

Belletti passed away early the following summer, having lost her battle against breast cancer. She is buried in Nederland Cemetery.

“This is one of the most satisfying stories I’ve ever worked on, and it brought home to me the power that journalism can have in affecting change in people’s lives,” said Greg Campbell a few years after he first wrote Belletti’s story.

“Greg’s story really changed me and I think it forever changed Boulder Weekly as well,” says current Editor Joel Dyer, who was also the Weekly’s editor back when the story was written. “Like Greg, I saw the power of journalism to change lives, and I learned what it was that makes being a journalist in Boulder different than anywhere else. Reporting on social issues in Boulder is more like a conversation than a one-sided statement of fact.

“This story,” continues Dyer, “was the first one we did that basically said, ‘Hey Boulder, there is someone in your midst that really needs your help, and what are you going to do about it?’ Not only did our readers respond with overwhelming kindness, but even the city government, which played the bad guy role in the original story, came through to help this woman in desperate need.

“Since Anita’s story we have written a good many stories about people in tough situations in need of help. Just in recent months we have reported on a homeless couple about to give birth while living on the streets of Boulder and a quadriplegic mom and her young son about to be evicted from their Section 8 housing because of her use of medical marijuana for her pain. And just like with Anita, our readers have risen to the occasion to provide housing, financial and legal aid to not only those recent examples, but to others in need who we have written about over the past 20 years. It truly makes it an honor and a privilege to tell the stories of such people to such compassionate and generous readers.”