‘You can be swept away at anytime’ | VailDaily.com

‘You can be swept away at anytime’

Heidi Rice
Post Independent/Kara K. PearsonMark sits quietly as he contemplates his long-time girlfriend, Helena, who passed away recently from hypothermia.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – In a small, two-bedroom motel suite they gather together – some to get out of the cold, some to grab a hot meal and others simply seeking comfort and companionship.But those that find themselves living on the streets have very different stories to tell of the circumstances that brought them to this point in their lives.Some of the homeless in Glenwood Springs find some temporary shelter, thanks to the work of Karolyn Spencer, of New Castle, founder of Feed My Sheep ministry.Spencer has run her day center out of the Silver Spruce Motel in Glenwood Springs for the past two years. It offers a warm place to stay, food, clothing, a shower and a telephone.Those who use the facility may come every day or just once in a while. Some are working and some aren’t. Some have substance abuse problems and some don’t. But the atmosphere is one of caring and support, no matter what the circumstances.”Absolutely, we’re like a family,” Spencer said. “Everyone worries about everyone. The homeless are God’s calling to me. It’s an issue here.”MarkTears fill the deep creases around Mark’s eyes when he remembers his special friend, Helena Jandura, 50, a homeless woman who froze to death outside in Glenwood Springs on Dec. 13.

Mark, 48, moved to Aspen with his family in 1969, where he attended junior high and high school. But he moved out of the house when he was 16 and lived in a hut, because things were not good at home.Life was fairly normal in 1976. He attended Colorado Mountain College where he met a girl and fell in love.”I really wanted kids and I got married,” he recalled with a wry smile.At the time he worked on the railroads, bought a house and drove a Volvo with leather seats. But Mark was an alcoholic, which eventually got him into trouble, he said.”I quit the railroad and I had to go away to jail,” he said. “But I came back and sobered up.”Mark had two children, but ended up divorced and renting an apartment. Then he started drinking again and lost the apartment. He had a job, but no place to live.Mark had met Jandura, who was also homeless, and they stayed at different motels or at his “camp” at an undisclosed location.”I had been with her the night she died,” Mark said sadly. “We spent a lot of time together.”Mark comes to the day shelter mostly for friendship, camaraderie and support, he said.

“There are so many intelligent, well-educated people here,” he said. “It’s mostly about substance abuse, but not for everyone.”RobertRobert, 51, has been a longtime visitor at the shelter and wrote his first poem on Christmas Day, which he shared with others. It is titled “The Pool.””The pool is our drug of choice,” Robert said. “The towel is what God hands us to get off of the stuff.”He heard about the shelter while at the soup kitchen at the Methodist Church in Glenwood Springs. While he has no specific place to live, Robert calls the whole Roaring Fork Valley his home, he said.”Sometimes I’m a roommate and right now I’m working as a painter,” he said. “But I prefer to sleep in my car because I don’t like being around people that much.”Although he continues to work, he said his earning ability has diminished over the years. Robert said people who come to the shelter should be prepared to pull their own weight.”Everybody takes care of their self,” he said with smile. “Nobody’s mommy lives here.”

WarrenSpencer calls Warren the “poster child” of the shelter. He was able to deal with his drug problems and is doing well, although he has struggled with custody issues over his 5-year-old son.Warren credited Spencer for his success. “I’ve come so far in the last year – I have no choice but to be successful,” Warren said. “She knows our strengths and weaknesses and she won’t let us relapse.”Warren is proud of his success, he said. “She’s working with people who want to make something of their lives and I’m one of them,” he said.Warren points out that, like it or not, homelessness is a reality in the mountains. “If it takes someone dying on the street for people to realize what’s going on,” he said, shaking his head as his voice trailed off. “That’s an awful way to die. No matter what our addictions or problems are, we’re Glenwood Springs. This is about people who are here on a daily basis. “Glenwood Springs doesn’t want us, but we are part of the community and we’re not going anywhere,” he said. “I don’t know how many people have to pile up at the morgue before they realize we need a shelter.”

PattiPatti, 55, of Carbondale, has been volunteering at the center for the past eight months. She heard of the shelter while working at the soup kitchen in Glenwood Springs.Although she is not homeless herself and works full time, Patti comes in twice a week to help cook meals and just hang out.”What I see is that everybody has a story,” she said. “If you listen and have compassion, you find you have things in common. Whatever is going on, these people are human. What I’m learning, again and again, is that you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover. I cannot look at another in judgment because I will never be able to comprehend the path they have chosen up to this point in time.”Along with Patti, other volunteers help at the shelter, including a man named Terry, whom Spencer relies on to help supervise the clients when she’s not around.Whatever their stories or reasons for being homeless, the bottom line seems to be that people are people – no matter what the circumstances – and it can happen to almost anyone.”It’s like a tsunami,” a young woman at the shelter summed up. “You can be swept away at anytime.”Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism