Homeless in Glenwood is a harsh reality
In a small, two-bedroom motel suite they gather together – some to get out of the cold, some to grab a hot meal and others simply seeking comfort and companionship.Being homeless isn’t easy.But it’s a fact of life and those that find themselves living on the streets have very different stories to tell of the circumstances that brought them to this point in their lives.Luckily for some of the homeless in Glenwood Springs, there is a place to find some temporary shelter, thanks to the work of Karolyn Spencer, of New Castle, founder of Feed My Sheep ministry.Spencer has run her day center out of the Silver Spruce Motel in Glenwood Springs for the past two years. It offers a warm place to stay, food, clothing, a shower and a telephone.Those who use the facility may come every day or just once in a while.Some are working and some aren’t. Some have substance abuse issues and some don’t. But the atmosphere is one of caring and support, no matter what the circumstances.”Absolutely, we’re like a family,” Spencer said. “Everyone worries about everyone. The homeless are God’s calling to me. It’s an issue here.”MarkTears fill the deep creases around Mark’s eyes when he remembers his special friend, Helena Jandura, 50, a homeless woman who froze to death outside in Glenwood Springs on Dec. 13.Mark, 48, moved to Aspen with his family in 1969, where he attended junior high and high school. But he moved out of the house when he was 16 and lived in a hut, because things were not good at home.Life was fairly normal in 1976. He homeless: see page 4attended Colorado Mountain College where he met a girl and fell in love.”I really wanted kids and I got married,” he recalled with a wry smile.At the time he worked on the railroads, bought a house and drove a Volvo with leather seats.But Mark was an alcoholic, which eventually got him into trouble.”I quit the railroad and I had to go away to jail,” he admits. “But I came back and sobered up.”Mark had two children, but ended up divorced and renting an apartment. Then he started drinking again and lost the apartment. He had a job, but no place to live.Mark had met Jandura, who was also homeless, and they stayed at different motels or at his “camp” at an undisclosed location.”I had been with her the night she died,” Mark said sadly. “We spent a lot of time together.”Mark comes to the day shelter mostly for friendship, camaraderie and support.”There are so many intelligent, well-educated people here,” he said. “It’s mostly about substance abuse, but not for everyone.”RobertRobert, 51, has been a longtime visitor at the shelter and wrote his first poem on Christmas Day, which he shared with others. It is titled “The Pool.”I woke up Christmas Day and decided to go swimming,I like this smoky poolSome people prefer it in a hazeWe all been here before, ain’t it a pityGod hands us a towel’cause life can get shi___I’m speaking of the towel of talleration (toleration)in this disenfranchised nation”The pool is our drug of choice,” Robert explained. “The towel is what God hands us to get off of the stuff.”He heard about the shelter while at the soup kitchen at the Methodist Church in Glenwood Springs. While he has no specific place to live, Robert calls the whole valley his home.”Sometimes I’m a roommate and right now I’m working as a painter,” he said. “But I prefer to sleep in my car because I don’t like being around people that much.”Although he continues to work, he says his earning ability has diminished over the years.Robert warns that those who come to the shelter should be prepared to pull their own weight.”Everybody takes care of their self,” he said with smile. “Nobody’s mommy lives here.”WarrenSpencer calls Warren the “poster child” of the shelter. He was able to get clean from drugs and is doing well, although he has struggled with custody issues over his 5-year-old son.Warren is quick to point the finger of success at Spencer.”Basically I’m another success story for Karolyn Spencer,” the soft-spoken, middle-aged Warren said earnestly. “I’ve come so far in the last year – I have no choice but to be successful. She knows our strengths and weaknesses and she won’t let us relapse.”Warren is proud of his success.”She’s working with people who want to make something of their lives and I’m one of them,” he said.Warren, who has lived both inside and outside, receives a HUD voucher for housing, but says it won’t cover the housing costs in Glenwood Springs.”It helps out, but you need twice that amount here,” he said. “Housing is a big (issue) for a lot of these people.”Warren points out that, like it or not, homelessness is a reality in the valley and he speaks passionately about the people and the need for the community to do something.”If it takes someone dying on the street for people to realize what’s going on,” he said, shaking his head as his voice trailed off. “That’s an awful way to die. No matter what our addictions or problems are, we’re Glenwood Springs. This is about people who are here on a daily basis. Glenwood Springs doesn’t want us, but we are part of the community and we’re not going anywhere. I don’t know how many people have to pile up at the morgue before they realize we need a shelter.”For now, Warren is a core member of the people using Spencer’s day center.”I have my own family here,” he said, proudly. “We help each other out – we console each other when we need it and we yell at each other when we need it. We share our successes. I’d give the shirt off my back if someone needed it and I know they would do it for me.”JoelAt 41, Joel is currently living in an RV donated by the Salvation Army, although he previously lived outside in a tent.He came to the valley two years ago and helped build the Glenwood Springs Community Center, did work at Aspen Airport and the tram going up to the Glenwood Caverns.But he couldn’t afford the rents in Glenwood Springs.”I’ve lived here and there, trying to find a place to squat,” Joel said.He was told about Spencer’s shelter from someone on the street and comes most every day to use the shower, get something to eat and re-charge his cell phone.”I do day labor and work is slow right now,” he said. “This is a nice place and kind of like an extended family.”PattiPatti, 55, of Carbondale, has been volunteering at the center for the past eight months. She heard of the shelter while working at the soup kitchen in Glenwood Springs.”I went through a rough year personally and I had to do something to getout of me,” she said. Although she is not homeless herself and works full time, Patti comes in twice a week to help cook meals and just hang out.”What I see is that everybody has a story,” she said. “If you listen and have compassion, you find you have things in common. Whatever is going on, these people are human. What I’m learning, again and again, is that you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover. I cannot look at another in judgment because I will never be able to comprehend the path they have chosen up to this point in time.”Patti also fondly recalls Jandura.”I spent some time with Helena – it was a human-human connection,” she said. “She touched me and I know I touched her.”Along with Patti, other volunteers help at the shelter, including a man named Terry, whom Spencer relies on to help supervise the clients when she’s not around.Whatever their stories or reasons for being homeless, the bottom line seems to be that people are people – no matter what the circumstances – and it can happen to almost anyone.”It’s like a tsunami,” a young woman at the shelter summed up. “You can be swept away at anytime.”
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Glenwood Springs Police Chief Joseph Deras lamented his department’s inability to maintain a constant presence downtown during a virtual public forum Monday night.