Woman’s mission is to help homeless
Karolyn Spencer was sitting by the river meditating one day when she experienced the most incredible presence.She said it was God and he had a job for her to do.”I wasn’t a Christian until about five years ago,” Spencer said. “I felt the most fantastic presence and I couldn’t believe it.”Since then, her mission has been simple and selfless: to help the homeless and provide them with food, clothing and shelter.The mission may be simple but it’s tremendously rewarding.”This mission is God’s gift to me,” Spencer said. “It revitalizes me and gives me so much meaning and spirituality. It’s a gift to me from God – I’m not a gift to anyone.”Formerly a social worker from Chicago, Spencer moved to the valley eight years ago at MISSION: see page 2the age of 64 with a friend. Both women had been married and divorced and decided to buy a house in New Castle together.”I felt the strongest need to be out here,” Spencer said. “I honestly feel that God got me out here and he’s been training me to do this all my life.”She began her mission in Glenwood Springs while working for the Salvation Army, which operated a day center for the homeless in the American Baptist Church off Cooper Avenue in Glenwood Springs. But after about a year, the center was closed in December 2002 because it wasn’t wanted in the neighborhood. Other sites were sought, but nothing could be found.The closure hit Spencer hard.
“I got really depressed and angry and I took a leave of absence from the Salvation Army for a while,” Spencer recalled.An idea is bornIn March 2003 things changed. Spencer said she was reading the Bible and the passage John 21:15-17..In the verses, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. Peter acknowledges that he does and Jesus replies, “Feed My Sheep.”And so, Spencer’s idea for the Feed My Sheep Ministry for the Homeless wasborn out of that verse.A Southern Baptist, Spencer found a spiritual counselor and sponsorthrough Alpine Resort Ministries and began asking other churches in thevalley to help fund a center where the homeless could come.In December 2003, she approached the owners of the Silver Spruce Motel inGlenwood, Stanley and Alexandra Bartlomiejczuk, who agreed to rent her aroom for Spencer’s purpose of helping the homeless.”We have a good heart for these people,” Stanley said.The center operates out of a two-room suite at the Sliver Spruce, which contains chairs, a
small refrigerator and cook stove, card tables, television, phone and abathroom.The rent is $1,500 a month and several churches contribute toward it,including St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Aspen; Christ Episcopal Church inAspen; St. Peter’s Episcopal Church of Basalt; Mountain View BaptistChurch in Glenwood Springs; and New Hope Church in New Castle.A place for the homelessOpen from 8 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday, the shelter provides aplace for the homeless to get out of the cold, take a shower, eatbreakfast, pack a lunch and use the phone. On Fridays, food is distributedto help get them through the weekend.”The majority of them come to the valley to work and most don’t come frombig cities – they’re afraid of big cities,” Spencer explained. “A lot of
them are locals who grew up in the valley and have become estranged fromtheir families or are homeless for other reasons.”The myth that homeless people are all drunks or drug addicts is not true,Spencer said. But some do drink.”I’d say about 50 percent of them drink and the others do not,” she said.”They’re neither better or worse than you or me.”Police troubleWhile having no place to go, many homeless people end up having encounters with local police while out on the streets.Spencer thinks that sometimes the police are a little too aggressive. “The police are constantly harassing them and sometimes go overboard, but they only reflect the town – it’s supposed to look right and be right,” Spencer said. “It’s a resort town – a business. But the homeless also have to recognize that and respect that.”Getting back on trackAbout half of the people who come to her shelter work and some have seasonal jobs that don’t last long.”The problem is they don’t make enough to pay rent and come up with first, last and deposit,” Spencer said.The center not only provides them with basic necessities, but also a resource to get their lives back on track.
“It gives them a stable life because everything else is so chaotic,” Spencer said. “This stabilizes them and then nice things begin to happen.I have several of them who are no longer homeless, but they check back and keep in contact.”Rule must be followedAlthough there is no time limit of how long they can come or how many times, there are rules that must be adhered to. Spencer interviews each person and evaluates them. She makes them sign a contract, which lets them know drugs, alcohol or aggressive behavior is not allowed – she tries to maintain a family atmosphere.”I’ll take referrals from other agencies or if somebody tells me about somebody,” she said. “But I screen them and find out what their plans are and their skills. This is about giving people who really don’t have a place to live an anchor, an oasis.”Spencer’s shelter served 153 people in 2004, with 2,934 visits. As of late December 2005, about 250 different people had come in.With extremely cold weather that swept through the valley in late November and early December, Spencer said that the shelter is now open in the evenings through Feb. 1.The freezing temperatures were also responsible for the death of a longtime local homeless woman, Helena Jandura, who died of hypothermia. “After Helena died, we decided to stay open at night,” Spencer said. “In the last couple of weeks, I’ve realized how vulnerable the homeless are to death – they’re not as strong as I thought.”With an estimated 150 to 200 homeless people in the area, Spencer’s dream now is that some day Glenwood Springs will have a full-time, permanent shelter for those who have no place else to go.”We’ve got to have a shelter,” she said. “I don’t know how or where, but it’s still a vision.”Until then, she plans to continue the part-time day center to provide a little help to the homeless of the area.And that gives her great satisfaction.”This is terrific,” Spencer said with a genuine smile. “God couldn’t have found a better thing for me to do.”
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