ARVADA, Colo. (KDVR) – A homeless man who rushed to help people during a fiery and deadly Interstate 70 crash in 2019, is living in subsidized housing but still panhandles to make ends meet.
“Right before COVID hit, I got the apartment,” said Darin Shawn Barton. “I was going to retire from Denver West and not go out there and panhandle … I don’t want the public thinking that I’m out there … just to get money for whatever. That’s not the case.”
Barton, 47, had been panhandling near Denver West Colorado Mills Parkway in Lakewood in April 2019 when a semi-truck slammed into several other vehicles, causing a chain reaction crash.
Barton helped some drivers find their way to safety.
“I do have mental outbursts since the accident. PTSD gets kind of crazy when there’s thunder or lightning, fireworks, loud noises,” he said.
Following the deadly I-70 crash
Barton received an outpouring of support – including thousands of dollars in gift cards and a motorized scooter – from FOX31 viewers after he was featured in a news story following the massive crash.
“I didn’t do anything to warrant all that,” said Barton, who used some of the cash cards to pay off out-of-state and local court debts and traffic fines in an attempt to get his drivers license reinstated.
“I just want to thank everybody that sent in gift cards. All the generosity and the kind words … I’m very humbled. Very grateful,” he said. “I just – I really wish everybody a very blessed day.”
Barton said he shared many of the financial gifts with others.
“I met this one family that needed gas to get back and forth to the doctor,” he said. “Well, when I got my scooter, they gave me, like, $300 in gas cards for Shell, so I just gave it to them. Because they had five kids. They had to take their kids to school. A couple of them had to go to the doctor and other errands they had to do that day.”
Barton said he used a lot of the food cards, but he felt out of place using other gift cards – including one to a “big ol’ fancy” shoe store, he said.
“I walked in the door and I just turned right around. ‘I can’t go in there. I buy my shoes at Walmart,’” he said. “I just felt that money did not belong to me. It belonged to the other homeless people that are out struggling like I have over the years.”
Lee Lusk, a church member at First Baptist Church in Golden, helped Barton manage the influx of financial gifts. “The station turned over the gift cards to me, and I gradually gave them to him,” he said, hoping to encourage Barton to spend the money wisely.
“I thought he should’ve used more of it for himself,” said Lusk.
How Barton is adjusting to indoor living
Barton said he is still growing accustomed to an indoor lifestyle.
“It’s a lot less stressful … I don’t have to worry about my stuff getting stolen by somebody or get thrown away by the police. I don’t have to worry about hiding my tent, hiding my sleeping bag and my tarps – you know – in the bushes, where people can’t find them,” he said. “It is awesome to have access to a bathroom 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.”
“Now, he’s so much better off because he has a place to go home to,” said Lusk.
Barton said the transition to housing hasn’t been without struggles.
“It is very challenging. Going from living outside with absolutely no rules whatsoever at all to now, I have neighbors. I can’t listen to my music loud at night … like I used to,” he said. “I’m a night person more than I am a day person, and I’m in here with my PTSD. I’ll wake up at 1:00 a.m. or 2 o’clock in the morning, and I can’t go back to sleep for hours. I’m in here just pacing around … it keeps my neighbors up at night.”
What Barton hopes to accomplish with some help
Barton said he also suffers from physical injuries unrelated to the incident– including bad knees and shoulders – that prevent him from doing consistent physical work.
He is hoping to have surgery sometime soon after he said his scheduled operations were delayed because of the pandemic.
“I think he has some handicaps that are holding him back there,” said Lusk. “He’s getting a knee replacement and shoulder surgery, which will help him, I hope, get in a situation where he can take a permanent, at least, part-time job.”
“Mentally, it’s very hard for me to accept the fact that I can’t do the things that I used to do,” Barton said.
Barton had been relying on some government disability payments for financial stability but experienced a few extended periods in which he says he was not receiving the benefits.
“That’s made it very difficult because I depended on that money to pay my rent for six months,” he said. “I have been late with my rent. I’ve had to go out and panhandle to get the money for rent, even though (rent) is only 25 bucks.”
Barton said he would like additional assistance and support for his mental health issues, and he wishes the bus system would run more often and more consistently on time.
However, he said having housing has been a “blessing.”