From homeless to helper |

From homeless to helper

Daily file photo

AVON, Colorado – On the day a homelessness survey started, a formerly homeless man walked into the local Salvation Army office and donated an envelope full of money.

The staff was a little frazzled, trying to put the finishing touches on the successful Empty Bowls luncheon earlier this month. It was late in the afternoon when he walked in. The man, we’ll call him Steve, waited patiently.

“We stop seeing clients at 3 o’clock,” the staff told him, but they hardly ever do. “If you can wait a few minutes, we’ll be able to help you.”

That means they have to stop handing out coupons, vouchers and food to clients at around 3 p.m. each day. Even in the world of professional do-gooders, you have to leave a little time in your day to finish your paperwork.

“I’m not here for help; I’m here to make a donation,” Steve said.

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That stopped them cold. It took a few moments for them to recognize him as a smile crept into his eyes.

“At first, we didn’t recognize him. He was so destitute when he was one of our clients,” said Tsu Wolin-Brown, executive director of the Vail Valley’s Salvation Army.

He handed over a thick envelope, turned and left.

They opened it a few moments later to find it contained a stack of 20 $50 bills – $1,000. He saved the money a few dollars at a time from the job they helped him find.

Steve had been one of the Salvation Army’s local homeless clients, camped in a tent in Red Cliff. They’d gladly provided bus passes, food – whatever it took to get him back on his feet.

It worked. He found work in Montrose and is living there.

By the time they ran outside to thank him, he was driving away.

“That’s $1,000 the guy saved up to give us,” Wolin-Brown said.

Ironically, Steve showed up as the regional homelessness survey started, trying to determine how many people are actually homeless in Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties.

It’s all part of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Colorado Counts. It’s also part of a nationwide effort, “100,000 Homes,” with the goal of providing homes for 100,000 homeless individuals and families over the next five years.

There’s government and nonprofit grant money on the line, but they need solid data to get some of it, said Kathleen Lyons, director of Eagle County’s health and human services.

The survey will help nail down homeless numbers in the tri-county area but also broaden the definition, Wolin-Brown said.

People living in cabins at Rancho del Rio or in the old railroad headquarters in Minturn are considered homeless because their living situations are so tenuous. People who come to the Salvation Army for a one-time rent-assistance payment are considered at risk.

Volunteers are looking for homeless people, and some know exactly where to find them.

“I’ve had people living in tents say they’ll volunteer to survey other people where they are,” Wolin-Brown said.

Volunteers are scheduled to work in three-hour shifts between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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