Her friends mash her first and last names together and call her SarahSahr, but she could just as easily be called Sarah Smile. Her spirit is effervescent, contagious. As the oldest child, she was always caring for her siblings while growing up in San Bernardino, California. She went to college in Mesa, Arizona, and became a certified Medical Assistant. A caregiver. She moved to Loveland to care for her grandmother, but didn’t get along with an uncle and bounced back and forth from the streets.
Soon, she knew everyone in “the community”, referring to the group of homeless who frequent downtown Loveland, particularly around Safeway. “They called me the homeless den mother, because if someone couldn’t go into the store I’d go get them what they wanted. I made sure everyone had blankets. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. It makes me feel better when I can help someone.” But some would take advantage of her compassion. “Not everyone wants a hand-up, they want a hand-out.”
She lived for a while in the old Arcadia Hotel, which was built in 1884 on the corner of 4th and Cleveland and housed Loveland’s first opera house. It was $80 a week for her and her boyfriend, but the building was sold to be renovated into retail space. The relationship ended and she was back with her grandmother, and the uncle “who never liked me since I was a kid.” It was a very stressful situation, so she moved out, again. “I self-medicated with alcohol, but the panic attacks stopped because the stressors were gone.” She became comfortable being back with her community, and found a new relationship with a man who was also bouncing from family to the streets. “We’re all each other has, now.”
Sarah first visited Loveland when she was 18, and fell in love with the town. That was before meth and heroin became an epidemic in this country. Loveland is no different than other communities, and it’s not the town she first visited. The community started losing its heart as members became addicted. “It’s not the same Loveland. Meth and heroin are changing people. You can’t trust them. They’ve become automatons.” She started losing friends to overdoses, liver failure, even falling off trains. “A lot of people died.”
There is one treatment facility in Loveland for people with opioid addiction. It’s SummitStone Health Partners on Taft and Wilson. Though she’s never had to use their services, as a good caregiver she’s aware of what they offer. “I endorse Seboxone over Methadone because it actually helps you get off everything, not just deal with the withdrawals. It helps your body help itself. Some people get addicted to Methadone. It makes no sense.” Unfortunately, not everyone who needs help wants it. Sarah knows that. “Those who want to stay on meth or heroin will either be able to help themselves or die. It’s horrible to say that because I love everybody. I do. But you can only go so far without making some effort.”
Sarah and her partner are making the effort. They work day labor jobs and are trying to get a place to live. The City of Loveland’s Community Partnership Office helps those who want to help themselves find housing through a voucher program largely funded by federal block grants. But those funds are under fire with the current administration. Sarah and her partner are on the list. Alison Hade is the administrator of the Community Partnership Office for the city, and has been helping Sarah, and many others, find a path to get off the streets. “She’s been a driving force.”
But she’s not the only local force driving people off the streets of Loveland. There’s the police force, and they’re driving people off the streets as well, right up to the Larimer County Detention Center, because living on the streets of Loveland is considered “illegal camping”, and the officers have to do their job too. “They’re not looking for the people selling drugs. They’re looking to bust people’s camps. I’m not anti-police. I know most of them, and it’s not because I’ve been in trouble. But their focus is so wasted, because all they’re doing is throwing people in jail for bullshit, who are going to come back out and have more fines to pay, more hopelessness, so of course the mess is going to get worse.”
When asked what she’d like to see happen locally to help people get off the streets of Loveland, SarahSahr gets her smile back on and says, “I want to think the best of everybody. I want to see the community be able to help itself. I’d like to see a facility where people who want to help themselves can find a place to stay, like the YMCAs were in the 70s. But if you’re a crackhead, and I’m just using that term to refer to people who don’t want to get off drugs, you can’t stay there.” The effervescence comes back to her face. “If you have your lip dragging on the ground, you’re going to trip over it.”