Deathly cold 

At least six homeless people have died outside in Colorado

Springs this year

click to enlarge Fred Satterwhite, a homeless man, sits outside Marian - House Soup Kitchen downtown. - MICHAEL DE YOANNA
  • Michael de Yoanna
  • Fred Satterwhite, a homeless man, sits outside Marian House Soup Kitchen downtown.

Bundled snug inside three coats, Fred Satterwhite squinted at the distant sun.

The temperature last week was hovering around the freezing mark -- it hadn't been this warm in days. He welcomed an end to the shivering loneliness of Thursday morning, Dec. 7, when the temperature plunged to 15 degrees below zero.

The wind chill was so brutal that the National Weather Service in Pueblo warned people to stay indoors.

But Satterwhite, who is homeless, says he slept outside because the city's designated emergency shelter -- New Hope Center, run by the Salvation Army -- has banned him.

A kind Colorado Springs property owner allows him to trespass to a secret enclosed area, the 53-year-old says.

"Without that help, I might have died, you know. "

Death has been in the air lately, he adds.

In late November, the body of an acquaintance of his, David Moore, was discovered under a bridge within sight of the Marian House Soup Kitchen, where Satterwhite waited for a meal.

"Over there," Satterwhite says, pointing. "He froze."

Moore, 45, died of hypothermia sometime on Nov. 29 or Nov. 30. That night, the temperature dipped to 18 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Moore is one of at least six homeless people to die outside in Colorado Springs so far this year, the Independent has found.

Also among the dead is John Bath, 63. He died of hypothermia in a drainage ditch near Garden of the Gods Road and Nevada Avenue on Nov. 17. The night before, temperatures dipped to 19 degrees and a trace of snow had fallen.

John Faulkner, 40, died of prolonged exposure to the cold in a private backyard in the 3200 block of Illinois Avenue, a few blocks west of the Colorado Springs Country Club, on Oct. 31. The low that night was 26, and Faulkner had removed his clothing -- behavior hypothermia victims may display because they feel warm before losing consciousness.

Richard Tripp, 59, froze to death at a campsite near the Monument Valley Park trail. Children found his body on Feb. 21. The morning low was 28 and ice had formed under his body.

Two others, Michael Allen Ventura, 46, and Randy Dement, 58, died of chronic alcoholism on warmer nights.

Strict rules

No agency in the city tracks homeless deaths. The Independent assembled the information using coroner and police records and relied on the assistance of the public administrator's office (which deals with the bodies of destitute people), advocates for the city's homeless population and homeless people.

The number of deaths surprised Bob Holmes, director of Homeward Pikes Peak, the agency that coordinates the region's homeless services.

"It's certainly a tragedy -- absolutely," Holmes says.

He maintains the victims could have gone to New Hope Center, which is designated by city emergency management officials to house homeless people in severely cold weather.

Even with the bitter cold, the shelter has averaged roughly 175 people a night -- 25 people short of its capacity. There are roughly 500 homeless people living outside, according to a recent homeless census.

Those who don't come in are "probably under the bridges, in their cars or camping," says Gene Morris, director of the New Hope Center.

The shelter has banned an undisclosed number of people for drunkenness, fighting or carrying weapons, but is required by the city to open its doors to them when temperatures dip to 10 degrees. Satterwhite says he and others have simply given up on trying to get in at New Hope, regardless of the temperature, because of its strict rules.

Others find getting into the shelter impossible.

New Hope denies entry to people without an identification card unless they submit to a police background check. And Morris says that youth under 18 who are unaccompanied by a parent are turned away and referred to Urban Peak Colorado Springs, a shelter that helps troubled teens turn their lives around.

But Becky Saad, Urban Peak's services coordinator, says the shelter doesn't provide emergency services. It has just 20 beds and a waiting list of about a week.

Wet shelter

Satterwhite says many of his friends drink, and booze makes him feel warmer on cold days. He's tried to enroll in one of the programs around the city to address his drinking, but has encountered waiting lists and costs he can't afford.

"I'm a Vietnam veteran, and there's no help for me," he says.

Stephen Handen, who runs a small shelter on the city's west side, says more should be done to reach out in difficult cases. He praises those who patrol the city when temperatures dip, but notes that homeless to people work hard to find a private place.

He says the city ought to consider opening a "wet shelter," where alcoholics would be allowed drink in a safe atmosphere. Such shelters can be highly controversial, but also have reported successes.

"At least you can ensure people are living through the night," Handen says.

Targeting Beggars

Jerry Heimlicher, the city councilman who represents the shops, cafs and bars that dot downtown Tejon Street, says he'd like to see Colorado Springs crack down on panhandlers.

"It is especially women who say they're not coming downtown," he says. "It's intimidating to have some burly person ask you for money."

Colorado Springs already bans panhandling near highway ramps and within 6 feet of a sidewalk caf.

Using those and other laws, last year city police arrested 49 homeless people -- 16 for aggressive panhandling -- in a downtown sweep during the shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.

But the laws still aren't strong enough, Heimlicher says. Business owners frequently complain about the behavior of the homeless, he says.

At Heimlicher's request, the city attorney is exploring extending the current panhandling ban to 20 feet. Also under analysis is a provision to prevent people from sitting on sidewalks, a measure that may quash the buskers outside Boulder Street Coffee Roasters and Starbucks near Acacia Park.

A similar proposal passed by the Denver City Council earlier this month gave Heimlicher the idea.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has labeled Denver's plan as potentially discriminatory against the homeless.

"I know I'm going to catch hell on the whole panhandling thing," Heimlicher says.

The city is closely watching developments in Denver.

Bob Holmes, director of Homeward Pikes Peak, an agency that coordinates the region's homeless services, recently called for a citywide panhandling ban. But the city attorney rejected that idea.

Holmes' group is handing out cards downtown urging individuals not to give to the homeless, but rather to local charities that aid the homeless.

But other advocates for the homeless, including Stephen Handen, say people wouldn't ask for money unless they were in need.

"There aren't enough services in Colorado Springs to justify telling people not to give handouts," he adds.

-- Michael de Yoanna


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