Overlooked in Fort Collins: Testimony from the street

Megan Braa

It was the coldest night of the year, with temperatures reaching 17 degrees below zero and Bryan Tribby was living in a broken down car without heat.

“I was warm as toast,” Tribby said. “17 below and I was as warm as toast.”

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Cuddled in two sleeping bags and a giant comforter, Tribby was protected from the wind and was able to fall asleep on such a cold night.

Tribby awoke to the morning sun pouring through his back window. He found that the inside of his car had been encrusted with millions of tiny ice crystals. The light of the dawn reflected through his rear view mirror and bounced light through all of the crystals. Millions of tiny rainbow prisms decorated his car, surrounding him in beautiful light as he was cocooned warmly underneath his blankets.

“It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” Tribby said. “I went from sleeping out to seeing the most beautiful thing in my life.”

Starting in March of 2011, Bryan Tribby became homeless, living in a parked car outside of Catholic Charities in Fort Collins for almost two years.

Tribby became a part of the 290 individuals living in Fort Collins who are considered to be homeless and like many others put in this situation, Tribby became homeless through unlucky misfortune.

While living in Vail, Colorado, Tribby developed double bacterial pneumonia in June of 2010. After a long hospital stay, which almost cost him his life, Tribby was left with over $40,000 in medical bills that he could not pay.

Tribby then left Vail to live with his adopted son in Fort Collins, but because of his health he could not find a stable job and soon found himself living on the street.

Adjusting to homelessness was not easily but luckily during his first night being homeless, Tribby met some friends who essentially taught him how to be poor. According to Tribby there is a strategy to being homeless and the goal of that strategy is to survive.

Homeward 2020 board member, Bryan Tribby, smiles over his favorite plate of breakfast at the Egg and I. Photo credit: Megan Braa
Homeward 2020 board member, Bryan Tribby, smiles over his favorite plate of breakfast at the Egg and I. (Photo courtesy of Megan Braa.)

“The idea that homeless people are a bunch of bums and a bunch of meth and drug addicts just isn’t true. You are one pay check away from being homeless and I don’t care who you are in this country, you could be homeless,” Tribby said. “I have met multimillionaires who have lost it all on the street, I have met doctors, people with masters degrees, very educated, very smart folks. How does it happen? There are a million people on the streets and a million different stories.”

Over his favorite plate of Eggs Benedict at the Egg and I, Tribby recounted one of his best memories of being homeless.

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He remembers sitting at lunch one day at Catholic Charities. He saw a man walk into the room. The man was wearing a t-shirt, some jeans and was sitting sullenly with a lone cup of coffee in front of him.

“It was the beginning of winter, maybe early November or late October,” Tribby said. “It wasn’t bitter cold but it sure wasn’t t-shirt weather.”

Tribby admitted that his curiosity finally had the best of him and he went over to see what was going on with the man.

“I need a coat.” The man spat out on the verge of tears.

Tribby told the man to stay for a few minutes and that he be back shortly with a coat. Tribby rushed to speak with his friends at Catholic Charities and was able to produce a hefty winter jacket, fit for a homeless king.

 “As soon as the guy saw me, he stood up came running over to me, gave me the biggest bear hug I have ever gotten in my entire life with tears rolling down his face,” Tribby said. “This made such an impact on me because to me the coat was nothing, but to him it was everything.”

After two years of hardship and learning, Tribby was able to overcome homelessness and is now serving as a board member of two homeless relief organizations, Homeless Gear and Homeward 2020.

Homeward 2020 is a Fort Collins nonprofit organization based around making homelessness rare, short-lived and non-reoccurring.  One of the recent movements Homeward 2020 is making to end homelessness involves building more permanent housing facilities like Redtail Ponds, which already exists in Fort Collins.

Redtail Ponds is the first facility of its kind in Northern Colorado, and different facilities like Redtail Ponds across the nation have seen high success rates, according to the executive director of Homeward 2020, Vanessa Fenley.

Fenley said that making strides towards eliminating homelessness is not only possible but the best communities in the nation can help someone out of a homeless situation within 30 to 60 days.

As a board member of Homeward 2020, Tribby voiced his frustrations with the slow process of building housing and giving relief for the homeless.

“When you can spend 90 million dollars on a bus going north and south in one direction, you can figure it out,” Tribby said. “For that amount of money we could build seven of those places, Redtail Ponds has sixty units, that would completely eradicate homelessness in Fort Collins to do that, but hey what do I know.”

Tribby said that when facing the problem of homelessness, it is important that the citizens of Fort Collins create self-sustaining community that does not depend on the government but on the kindness of other fellow citizens.

“If you could get one person, doing one thing a week, that’s 52 happenings per year, and the more people that you talk to the more people you get involved,” Tribby said. “That is how you fix the problem, because I can’t do it by myself, you can’t do it by yourself, it takes the whole community working as a group in order to fix it.”

Tribby remembers the pain and the marginalization of his own self-worth, something that, according to Tribby, every normal citizen in Fort Collins contributes to everyday. Tribby stresses that above anything a simple smile might help someone through a day when they are on the cusp of breaking.

A local homeless man gives a "thumbs-up" sign to a member of the Fort Collins police, signaling he is doing fine. Photo credit: Megan Braa
A local homeless man gives a “thumbs-up” sign to a member of the Fort Collins police, signaling he is doing fine. Photo credit: Megan Braa

“One of the worst aspects to being homeless is not being homeless itself, it’s that you are a non-member of the society, you are invisible,” Tribby said. “It’s even worse than that because not only are you dejected and humiliated, but you don’t count on anything and people don’t even look at you as a human being anymore. And that’s the hardest thing, and that is something you have to deal with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week as a homeless person, knowing that you are despised and that no one values you in any way. That can wear on a person in very short period of time.”

Bryan Tribby is a Veteran of the United States Navy.

He participated in Desert Storm.

He has lived in Indiana, Los Angelos, Colorado, Arkansas, Japan.

He has been to Alaska, Hawaii, Korea, Singapore, Guam and the Johnson Islands.

He is a devout Catholic and prays to his lord every day.

He has a vivacious smile and a caring, warm-hearted laugh that shakes his entire body.

He has a deep love for coffee; the stuff runs through his veins.

He has been homeless and he would not wish that on his worst enemy.

He is still human.

“We as a nation need to understand that these are our sisters, our brothers, our mothers, our fathers out there on the street,” Tribby said. “They are not some space aliens trucked in to be the homeless, they are us and you could be us.”

Collegian Reporter Megan Braa can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @megan_braa