WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — Eric Downey and his wife Heather Ashburn look like any other family to an outsider.
However, a much darker reality is always lurking for this family of five. In this case it’s right beyond the park. A hotel just a few hundred yards away is the family’s temporary home.
“It’s just so embarrassing. We’ve lost three jobs in the last year due to homelessness,” said Ashburn.
“Hotels are made for vacations and getaways, not for living in,” said Downey.
Some nights, finances force the family to sleep in their car.
“I can remember a night when we slept in the car and I got up at 7 in the morning and went to work and was embarrassed because I had to go in there and get ready for work at my work,” said Ashburn, who works 40 hours a week at a nearby truck stop.
It’s a face of homelessness that few Coloradans ever see: two working parents trying to provide for their kids, but still struggling to make ends meet.
Some weeks are so tough, Downey and Ashburn are forced to panhandle with their kids.
“It’s very embarrassing. It hurts, but we will do what it takes to make sure they’re safe,” said Downey.
Panhandling was what the family was doing Monday when Wheat Ridge Police Sgt. Scott Jungclaus stumbled into their lives.
“I received a few calls from citizens who were concerned,” said Jungclaus. “I believe in paying it forward.”
Downey admits he gave the police veteran of 24 years a less-than-warm welcome.
“I was a little upset about it. I didn’t want him here,” said Downey.
“My biggest fear is that I would lose my children,” said Ashburn.
However, Jungclaus quickly won them over. Within hours, calls were made, and the Arvada Fire Department delivered clothes and food to the family’s home.
Jungclaus even donated some of his own money to the family.
“I think about my child and what I would want my child to be provided with. Also, religion-wise it hits me as a human and as a Christian and I just want to help people,” Jungclaus said. “They’re just down on their luck and they just need some help.”
“Honestly, that officer has called us eight to 10 times since yesterday just checking on us making sure we’re OK,” said Ashburn.
The family says they have also sought help from other community resources, but say many limit how many times a family can visit or seek services. That’s why they say they are especially thankful for the help they received this week from Jungclaus.
It’s a friendship that proves police work isn’t always just arrests and catching bad guys. It’s also playing the role of a Good Samaritan.
“It’s more about people and helping people and what I can do to help the community I’m working in,” said Jungclaus.
Police as well as child and family services have investigated the family’s living situation and have determined the children are safe and in good health.
If you would like to help families like this one, police recommend reaching out to area to area churches as well as food banks and organizations like Family Tree.