The changing face of the needy in Garfield County |

The changing face of the needy in Garfield County

Pete Fowler
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler/Post IndependentFeed My Sheep staff member Katie Lerch checks a guest into the nonprofit's overnight program in Glenwood Springs on Friday evening. The program provides a dry and warm place for homeless people to stay in an effort to prevent them from freezing to death on cold winter nights.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Since the economy has taken a dive this year there are more ordinary citizens who have ended up either in dire financial straits or even homeless, and are asking for help, according to the Feed My Sheep and Catholic Charities.

“We’re definitely seeing more demand,” said Marian McDonough, a regional director for Catholic Charities. “Some of your traditional middle class families are struggling and asking for assistance where we have not seen that in the past.”

She said the increased demand is mostly for Catholic Charities’ emergency assistance program, which helps people out with things like rent, utilities, transportation and food. Typically the program sees only the “working poor” or “nonworking poor,” she said, and not average citizens. She attributes the increase in demand to the economic downturn and fewer available jobs while costs of living continue to rise.

Feed My Sheep said its level of demand is near normal levels, but it’s also seeing a new type of customer.

“We’re starting to see a new kind of homeless,” said Kenneth Williams, Feed My Sheep associate director. “People who have never been on the streets before.”

In one example, he said, there were a couple of people laid off in Aspen from jobs that provided housing who found themselves suddenly homeless and came to Feed My Sheep for help.

Williams said Feed My Sheep usually serves about 300 homeless people a year, but the most that are in Glenwood Springs at any one time is as many as 150 in the summers. Many leave after seasonal jobs end and it starts to get cold in October. This year there’s about three people trying to make it the whole winter camping on hillsides just outside Glenwood Springs, Williams said.

Feed My Sheep provides homeless people with a day center with laundry, two meals a day, showers, television, phones and other services every day except Saturday. But the organization imposes expectations and rules on its clients and tells them not to disturb tourists or citizens downtown. LIFT-UP provides a meal each night except for Saturdays. On Saturdays homeless people here often get canned food to make it through.

Feed My Sheep has extended its winter overnight program this season. Paul Friel died March 2 just a day or two after the program ended. So after getting the word out about it and receiving enough donations, Williams said, Feed My Sheep has extended the program from the end of February to mid-March. It started this year on Nov. 16. The winter overnight program offers about four rooms to as many as 18 homeless people through the winter to keep them from freezing at night.

“If there’s overflow we put them in one of our vehicles or something like that,” Williams said. “The whole point of the program is to keep them alive.”

Feed My Sheep has actually received more donations of food and money than usual, he said, and some people seemed to want to donate more because of the economic downturn.

Catholic Charities has had mixed results for donations during the economic downturn, with some organizations saying they’re unsure how much they’ll be able to give, and some instances where donations have increased, McDonough said.

Totals for donations and levels of demand for both organizations aren’t tallied until the end of the year.

In Denver, advocates for the homeless said this week they’re feeding and sheltering more people just as the state plans to cut funding for their programs. The Denver Rescue Mission said it served 5,000 more meals this October than the year before and shelters in Jefferson County are reporting a 100 percent increase in the number of people seeking food and lodging.

Contact Pete Fowler: 384-9121

Post Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO

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