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January 17, 2013
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Where have all the homeless gone?

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - "Baby, it's cold outside," as the old Frank Loesser song goes, and the plunging temperatures have all but swept the local homeless population from the streets.

Jeff Hutson, assistant director for the Feed My Sheep charity organization, said the organization operates an overnight shelter that typically houses about 20 people nightly during the winter months.

Recently, though, he said the nightly count has hovered in the high 20s, even 30s, filled with homeless people who either could not or would not migrate to warmer climes.

"That's why we have a winter overnight program, to make sure everybody's OK," Hutson explained.

Feed My Sheep has its main office located in the Catholic Charities center, 1004 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs.

Some officials feel it has been cold enough in recent weeks to convince some of the area's homeless to head for warmer places.

"It's been my experience that many of our 'local' homeless are very transient and may go south for the winter," stated an email from Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, who was a Glenwood Springs police officer before he became sheriff in 2002.

He said a homeless man once told him, when he was a cop, that the favorite wintertime destination for local homeless people was Arizona.

This view was echoed by Lt. Bill Kimminau of the Glenwood Springs Police Department, who said, "A lot of them, during the winter, migrate elsewhere."

That may be the case here, where homeless denizens who once lounged around the two coffee houses in the 700 block of Grand Avenue - Bluebird Cafe and Sacred Grounds - have not been in evidence for some time.

Neither Vallario, Kimminau nor Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling, all of whom are veterans in dealing with the homeless population, have gotten reports from their officers about homeless people in distress due to the cold.

As chilly as it is these nights, it apparently it is not so cold as to force some hardy homeless individuals to come inside at night.

"I believe there are about five who camp year 'round," said Hutson.

And those five are camping out now, even when temperatures in the hills get down well below zero, confirmed one of them in a chat with the Post Independent on Wednesday.

"It's a little nippy," admitted Joel Jensen, 48, who said he has been camping in the woods around Glenwood Springs for several years.

"It doesn't really bother me 'til it gets down to 15-below. I've got good gear, so I'm OK," Jensen said.

He said he does not have a job because of back problems.

Hutson said Jensen and the others who camp out year 'round frequently come into the Feed My Sheep shelter for warmth, companionship or food, and will tell stories about their experiences in the woods.

"One of them made a funny comment the other day about his pants being frozen in the morning, so he couldn't put them on," Hutson recalled.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Jan 17, 2013 12:26AM Published Jan 17, 2013 12:25AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.