Dec 052011
Authors: Jason Pohl

Dozens of Fort Collins’ homeless were given some much-needed shelter this weekend, just in time for the arctic blast that gripped the area with snow and sub-zero temperatures.

An emergency overflow shelter, which opened Thursday, can accommodate up to 45 people, in addition to the two full-time shelters in Fort Collins. Since the Dec. 1 opening, the Catholic Charities-managed shelter has housed an average of 30 people each night, not counting the shelter’s two staffers, according to Glenn Good, regional director for Catholic Charities.

“The timing worked out well, and the intent all along was to provide shelter on the cold winter nights,” Good said. “We’re filling a need for people who don’t have another option.”

Though managed by Catholic Charities, the new shelter is a combination of efforts from several charity groups in the area including Homeless Gear and the United Way of Larimer County. A shelter, located at 121 N. Meldrum St., will operate Sunday through Thursday. The location will move to St. Joseph’s gymnasium, 127 N. Howes St., Friday and Saturday nights.

Catholic Charities operates one of the permanent shelters in Fort Collins, which Good said has been near capacity and had to recently turn away several people each night –– something he said was simply “not acceptable.”

He added that the response so far has been positive and respectful, and there have been no incidents at the overflow shelters.

“It’s rare that someone will come who has been drinking,” Good said. “It’s usually people just looking for a warm place to sleep.”

The United Way of Larimer County has worked with the opening of the new shelter. Additionally, they have corresponded with other groups in the area to pinpoint exactly what the community needs in terms of overnight accommodations.

“What we’ve seen is a huge increase for the children and families who are homeless,” said Pam Jessen, a spokesperson for the United Way of Larimer County. “People are always surprised when they hear that.”

Reverend Richard Thebo, 71, manages the other permanent shelter in Fort Collins, the Open Door Mission, which can typically accommodate up to 40 people on a given night. He stressed that when the temperatures drop and weather gets bad, he can usually find a way to make sure everyone has somewhere safe to go.

“We’re not filled. We never have been filled,” he stressed. “I don’t ever want to see another person freeze to death if I can help at all.”

His policies for the shelter are similar to those at the new overflow facility and include blood alcohol content testing.

“No drugs, no alcohol, no bad attitude, and you have no problems,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

A similar overflow system was implemented last year, but the start date was moved up from Jan. 1 to Dec. 1 as everyone recognized a need for increased community support for the homeless.

The overflow shelter is expected to last through March 31.

“A lot of the homeless individuals in the community live in their cars or live outside,” Jessen said. “This allows anyone in this position to have a warm, safe place to stay overnight.”

Senior Reporter Jason Pohl can be reached at

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