Katrina refugees struggle on the road
GYPSUM – You might have seen Roy Gleiter resting on a cot tilted against his wagon of belongings on the west Interstate 70 on-ramp in Gypsum.The Hurricane Katrina refugee, his 68-year-old mother Debra Cowden and dog Poofer have been there a week, awaiting a ride to wherever. They don’t panhandle or ask for food. More likely, Gleiter will offer strangers who sit with him a soda, bottled water or bracelets he wove.If you accept the bracelets, Gleiter doesn’t want money in return. Instead, he asks for a promise: Help the homeless and hand out the other bracelets for others to do the same.”I’m putting a seed in the ground,” Gleiter says, squinting in the harsh afternoon sun. “I can either become the evil or fight against it.”Gleiter’s sunburned face is marked by streaks of white skin around his eyes where wrinkles prevent the Colorado sun from penetrating. His hair is long, his beard salt and pepper and his eyes bright.Gleiter, Cowden and Poofer fled coastal Gulfport, Miss., for nearby Jackson as Katrina approached.”When the birds left, we left,” he said. The hurricane destroyed Gleiter’s trailer and a job selling used DVDs and VHS tapes. He said he appreciates the money and shelter the Red Cross gave him and others. When employment eluded Gleiter in Mississippi, the three loaded their belongings on a large cart Gleiter physically pulled across the country while looking for work.They landed in Denver two months after leaving and barely survived the winter in a van someone gave them. They headed for Idaho Springs and later Glenwood Springs, where they stayed outdoors over three months. There, police threatened to arrest Gleiter and take his belongings if he fell asleep, he said.Gleiter stayed awake for three days while police constantly checked to see if he was sleeping.”Glenwood Springs was a nightmare,” he said.People yell, spit and throw trash at him. They tell him to get a job. Contrary to the homeless stereotype, he doesn’t drink alcohol.A year after Katrina and 98 days trying to get 25 miles from Glenwood Springs to Gypsum, the three parked their cart beside the interstate on-ramp. Gleiter plans to keep moving, but he isn’t sure where he’s going. A job might await him in Idaho Springs, Kansas or some unknown locale.Getting wherever he’s going is difficult. He worries about getting arrested and leaving his Tourettes- and bipolar-stricken mother alone if they pull their cart east through Gypsum.Gleiter thinks traveling by bus isn’t an option because his mother might yell and get kicked off. Besides, buses don’t allow dogs, he can’t bring all his belongings and he doesn’t have identification to buy a ticket.The lack of identification consistently plagues Gleiter. He lost a job opportunity in Rifle and other places because he didn’t have identification. To get identification, he needs a birth certificate, which he needs identification to get.In the meantime, Gleiter, Cowden and Poofer continue their struggle on the road.”We’ll get by on a piece of string and an attitude,” Gleiter said.
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