Life in a tent full of ice
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The stereotype might suggest that they have a drinking problem or are unemployed.But the truth is, the majority of them hold down jobs and are involved in the community. There’s one main difference – for a variety of reasons, they’re homeless.At the Feed My Sheep Ministry for the Homeless, many have a place to get out of the cold, get something to eat and just hang their hat and relax. Many of them also have making changes to their lives.Four years ago, Karolyn Spencer of New Castle started Feed My Sheep out of a room at the Silver Spruce Motel in Glenwood Springs. The program now occupies the entire basement floor of what used to be St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in the city.”We have three times as much space,” Spencer said proudly. “We’ve got laundry facilities, and there is computer service available, a phone and a bathroom with a shower.”The spacious area also has two large living rooms with televisions and has a large kitchen. There are a ping-pong table, a dart board and cubicles where people can store their belongings. The furniture and appliances have all been donated.
Janie has been homeless for the past two years. An 18-year resident of the area, she said she lost her home after breaking up with her husband. “I went into a downhill thing,” Janie said. “And these guys took me in. They make sure I eat and I have a place to stay. I work, but I can’t afford the rents here.”When she first started to visit the shelter, Janie did not have a job. But she now works part time at a local business and says she is doing much better. Nevertheless, she still lives in a tent outside in the mountains.”I come in (to the shelter) almost every day, because when you wake up and your tent is full of ice …,” she said, her voice trailing off.Janie helps with cooking and cleaning at the shelter and says the group functions as a unit of friends and family. “If it wasn’t for this place, a lot of us would have nothing,” she said.Just then, she was interrupted by a man getting a cup of coffee.”But yet, we have it all,” he interjected.”We do, though,” Janie agreed. “When my ex and I broke up, these people took me in. Everyone knows each other, and this is our family. A lot of us wouldn’t eat if it wasn’t for here and the soup kitchen. We all get along and take care of each other. “You take it day by day, but I’m back on my feet and I’m doing a lot better.”Spencer has stories of former visitors who have gotten back on their feet. She said one man, Robert, now has permanent housing and is working as a painter. Still, those who have found housing often come in to help stretch their budget, getting breakfast or lunch or to use the computer or phone.Others former visitors to the shelter have moved out of state, but still keep in touch with Spencer, grateful for the opportunity she gave them, she said.One man moved to Florida, was reunited with his parents and works for a paragliding company. Another moved to Wyoming and is working as a cabinet maker and has his own house. Still another lives in Washington and has since married and has a job.”I know the next call I’ll get is that he’s going to be a dad,” Spencer said.And while some are still homeless, they have made strides in other ways. “I have eight recovering alcoholics,” Spencer said. “Some of them have been in and out (of rehab) and jail, but they have brought their drinking under control and are working and maintaining themselves.”
From 8 a.m. to noon, the shelter is open during the week, but not just to anybody off the street. Those who use it must come referred to Spencer from a local agency, whether it’s the police department, Social Services, a church, a hospital or by word of mouth from a trusted source. Spencer interviews each person and has them sign a contract that prohibits the use of alcohol or drugs while at the shelter, as well as aggressive behavior.”What’s happened is that there’s a few less transients, but the homeless population is pretty much the same,” she said.She estimates that there are about 40 homeless people in the area and about 20 of them use the day shelter on a regular basis.Spencer started an overnight program last year after a local homeless woman, Helena Jandura, 50, died on Dec. 13, 2005, of hypothermia.Three rooms are rented at the Silver Spruce Motel in West Glenwood, which provide 14 sleeping spaces. One room is for women and the other two for men.”It’s only open in December, January and February – during the coldest months,” Spencer said. “And it’s open to the community for emergencies but only by referral.”
Worship services are offered at the shelter in the mornings and on Sunday evenings, and according to Janie, everyone participates.Spencer herself became a Christian about six years ago when she said God came to her while she was meditating by the river. She calls helping the homeless a gift that God has given to her.”It’s hasn’t been me, it’s God,” she said. “I give the credit to God, but it’s great being the pipeline.”But those whom she has helped give Spencer a lot of the credit.Several of them nominated her for a Garfield County Humanitarian Service Award, which is sponsored by the Garfield County Human Services Commission, the Post Independent and Garfield County. Spencer received one of the awards in February 2006 for “Woman With a Mission.””She brought three of us with her to the ceremony at the Hotel Colorado,” Janie said. “And when she won her award, she made us stand up and said she wouldn’t have gotten (the award) without us.”So far, 2006 has been a good year for Spencer and her programs. She says the two biggest accomplishments have been opening the new shelter in the church basement and having eight people make progress in recovering from their alcoholism and managing their lives.”I feel very settled,” Spencer said.
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