Homelessness advocates prep for winter | PostIndependent.com

Homelessness advocates prep for winter

Ryan Summerlin

As the frigid temperatures of winter approach, advocacy groups for the homeless are again preparing to help those without a warm place to escape from the cold.

Feed My Sheep already has a record number of men signed up for its overnight shelter program, which started for the season this week.

At the first of the season the overnight program is never at capacity, but once the weather turns it’s a different story, said Karen Peppers, the organization’s director. Peppers said that she knows of eight men still living in the open on the hillsides around Glenwood Springs.

Feed My Sheep’s overnight program has never had more than 28, but this year 30 men have already signed up, along with eight women, she said.

“Though we’re helping those in need, we still don’t have a solution for our problem.”— Lynn Kirchner, founder, Carbondale Homeless Assistance

Most of the people using the program are people who live here year-round, said Peppers. Some were born and raised here, and some had businesses at one point. “You usually don’t think you’re going to lose everything overnight,” she said.

The space also has separate rooms for families. Last year, for the first time, the program hosted a family of three for the whole season.

Some people don’t come in every night. Others come in at the beginning of the season, and that’s their home for the next four months, said Peppers. Feed My Sheep always tries to keep space available for emergency situations, if the police or hospital call needing a place for someone. Peppers said law enforcement will often find someone ducking the freezing temperatures by climbing into a dumpster.

However, to keep the shelter safe and welcoming for everyone, they don’t let just anyone in.

Peppers enforces a strict rule of sobriety for those staying at the shelter. Having an intoxicated or drug-addicted person there “changes our whole center and overnight program,” she said. “The overnight program is all about being family run.”

The first thing she does is personally interview the person. She wants to learn about who they are, why they are homeless and what kind of documents, if any, they have. Ultimately, the organization wants to figure out how to get them back into society. Often they will have some physical or mental challenges keeping them from doing that.

“But you don’t give up on anyone. You never know,” Peppers said.

Feed My Sheep also distributes sleeping bags and cold weather gear at its downtown day center to keep warm the homeless who aren’t staying overnight. Donations come in from around the valley, and the organization is able to distribute some of the best coats, gloves and other gear, said Peppers.

“We try to cater to whoever walks through our door.” Feed My Sheep provides them “a shower, laundry, meals and lots of love,” she said.

The overnight program runs until March 15. And Feed My Sheep’s day center is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Peppers said she sometimes opens the day center on Saturdays, as well, if the weather is particularly bad. Anyone can also sponsor a man, woman or child at Feed My Sheep overnight program. The cost is $7 per night.

After raising money with a couple of successful fundraisers earlier this year, Carbondale Homeless Assistance is also preparing for the cold weather.

CHA’s main contributions to the homeless are shower passes at the Carbondale Recreation Center. Lynn Kirchner, founder of CHA, said that five to 10 people use the shower passes. But even more people are showing up to the free community lunches the organization hosts twice a month.

CHA has been providing the free meals at Faith Lutheran Church on the first and third Saturdays of each month, and serving about 30 to 40 meals each time. The organization is looking for other Carbondale organizations that could host meals on the other weekends, and extra volunteers are always needed to help with the community meals.

In an urgent situation with bad weather, CHA can also get a homeless person out of the cold by paying for a hotel room — as long as the hotel hasn’t barred that person for past behavior. The Carbondale group has also been distributing bus passes and City Market meal cards that have been donated to CHA.

“The needs are still here,” said Kirchner. “Though we’re helping those in need, we still don’t have a solution for our problem.” Carbondale also has a lot of empty buildings, and it’s sad they can’t be used to help people get in out of the cold, she said.

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