Canon City Daily Record by Carie Canterbury

Nancy Reeder temporarily is experiencing homelessness, but that has nothing to do with her identity as a woman.

So who is Nancy Reeder?

“I’m a 55-year-old woman who is very family oriented, and I miss my family,” she said. “I was a preschool teacher for 20 years.”

Even so, Reeder said she receives glares from strangers and most people go out of their way to avoid her when she is walking from Loaves & Fishes to wherever she is going.

“It makes me angry, upset,” Reeder said about the public’s reaction to her.

There also is much more to who Wendy Akers is besides her current homeless situation.

Akers, 45, was a cheerleading coach, photographer and full-time student, and she’s still a mother, grandmother and friend.

Both women are staying at Chayah House, the emergency homeless shelter at Loaves & Fishes.

Akers said people are quick to judge anyone who walks around with a backpack without knowing their situation. She said a couple of times people intentionally drove toward her as if she was a target.

“This is not a way of life we have chose, by any means,” she said.

The women said they put their pants on the same way everyone else does, sometimes they simply need a couple of extra layers.

Nancy Reeder hangs donated clothing inside the warehouse at Loaves & Fishes.

Nancy Reeder hangs donated clothing inside the warehouse at Loaves & Fishes. (Carie Canterbury/ Daily Record)

“You need to treat people with the respect you would like to be treated with,” Reeder said. “We’re all humans. We all have our demons. Get to know us — some of us are wonderful people.”

Akers moved into Chayah House earlier this month. Originally from Alabama, she moved to Colorado to help take care of friends after they had experienced a death in their family. After leaving an abusive situation, she found herself living in a tent at Lake Deweese with a friend, surviving sometimes on the fish they caught in the lake.

“I’ve never been homeless before in my life,” she said. “I never even had to worry about it.”

After a couple of days at the lake, she “learned” how to be homeless, cooking over a fire and washing clothes in boiled lake water.

After having surgery in September and recovering at Fremont Home Care, Akers went to Loaves & Fishes.

The women said not all people experiencing homelessness are drug addicts or have criminal histories. People experiencing homelessness may have become disabled or jobless and have no other options.

Reeder said she was “scared to death when she moved into the shelter Aug. 10. She had been living with her daughter and her family when they lost their home.

Reeder then moved in with her ex-husband who later kicked her out, leaving Reeder with nowhere else to go. Her daughter and her family also had to find other housing.

Reeder’s fears were put to rest after a couple of days at Loaves & Fishes.

“I was here for two days and felt like I was where I was supposed to be,” Reeder said. “(The staff at Loaves & Fishes) is wonderful.”

Information provided by Loaves & Fishes states about 33 percent of the individuals who seek emergency shelter were living in housing prior to coming to the emergency shelter. Another 30 percent had been sleeping outside, in their vehicle or other uninhabitable living areas.

“If they wouldn’t have had a bed, I would be sleeping on the streets,” Reeder said. “I don’t think I would have survived — I really don’t.”

She said she didn’t have “street smarts” to be able to live on the streets, but since August, she has learned a lot about survival.

A typical day for residents at Chayah House is to wake up at about 6:30 a.m., have breakfast and begin chores at 7 a.m. Residents must be out of the building after breakfast, at 7:45 a.m. Some residents work in the food and clothing warehouse and others simply walk around town and look for somewhere to sit, sleep or read until doors open again at 4 p.m. Many are encouraged to look for employment, if they are able, and some do day labor.

“We try to stay within walking distance,” Reeder said.

Reeder and Akers walk to Department of Human Services, where they sit under their favorite tree, and sometimes they walk to Walmart. Once in a while, Reeder’s family picks her up so they can spend time together.

The hardest part about living in a shelter, Reeder said, is saying goodbye after a visit.

“When my kids come visit and then they go to their home together and I am here — that’s hard,” said, her voice breaking. “Or when somebody’s been here for a while and then they leave, it’s hard.”

When residents leave the shelter each morning, they must take everything they need to survive the day, including an umbrella, snacks, bottled water, books or notebooks, music, a jacket and a blanket or towel on which to sit.

Residents must be checked back in by 6 p.m., in time for dinner, chores or showers, and two nights a week, they have life skills classes.

Reeder and Akers share a dorm with two other women who have become family to them.

“We take care of each other, we look out for each other,” Reeder said. “If someone is sick we do their chores — we step up and do what we can.”

Akers spends time during the day journaling under a tree not far from the shelter.

“I put my thoughts on paper because sometimes it can be overwhelming, and that’s the only way I can get everything out is to put it on paper,” she said.

Because of a physical impediment, Akers last worked in 2014. She said she has an associate’s degree in clinical technology and she has credits toward a criminalistic’s degree, and she also has experience in business management.

“Not being able to work does something to you mentally,” she said. “When you never had to depend on anyone, and you get into a situation like this, I was kind of freaked out when I came in here.”

Akers is working to obtain disability benefits so she can get a car and her own place to live.

“I have to find something to keep me busy because I have worked my entire life,” she said. “It was hard for me to accept the fact that I physically am unable to work anymore — it agitates me. I try to keep a positive attitude, and when I can’t, I have to look to others for motivation. I feel like I am on the right track.”

Akers said she is fortunate for Loaves & Fishes.

“I knew it was here, but I didn’t know they had a shelter,” she said. “When they first brought me here from Fremont Home Care, I was honestly afraid because I didn’t know anyone — I was ready to go back to the lake — but I have been very fortunate.”

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