Homeless haven in mountains
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – Karolyn Spencer was sitting by the river meditating one day when she says 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, she says. Formerly a social worker from Chicago, Spencer moved to the Glenwood Springs area eight years ago at the age of 64 with another women had been married and divorced . Spencer and her friend decided to buy a house in New Castle together.She began her mission in Glenwood Springs while working for the Salvation Army, which operated a day center for the homeless. But after about a year, the center was closed because it wasn’t wanted in the neighborhood, she said.
Other sites were sought, but nothing could be found, and 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 was born. A Southern Baptist, Spencer found a sponsor through Alpine Resort Ministries and began asking other churches in the valley to help fund a center where the homeless could come.In December 2003, she approached the owners of the Silver Spruce Motel in Glenwood, Stanley and Alexandra Bartlomiejczuk, who agreed to rent her a room in which she could help the homeless.”We have a good heart for these people,” Stanley Bartlomiejczuk 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 a bathroom.The rent is $1,500 a month and several churches contribute toward it, including St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Aspen; Christ Episcopal Church in Aspen; St. Peter’s Episcopal Church of Basalt; Mountain View Baptist Church in Glenwood Springs; and New Hope Church in New Castle.Open from 8 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday, the shelter provides a place for the homeless to get out of the cold, take a shower, eat breakfast, pack a lunch and use the phone. On Fridays, food is distributed to help get them through the weekend.”The majority of them come to the valley to work and most don’t come from big 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 from their 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.”
Frigid weatherWhile 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.”About 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.”Although 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 .With extremely cold weather that swept through the Rockies 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.”Vail, Colorado