Glenwood Springs Hostel serves disparate clientele

Apr 19, 2017

Behind the front desk of the Glenwood Springs Hostel.
Credit Aspen Public Radio

Glenwood Springs Hostel serves as a cheap, comfortable home base for people visiting to raft and ski. It draws on another clientele, however: People down on their luck.

When Jeannie Dittmer bought the hostel in 2011, she inherited a massive record collection. It proved a little too massive.

“I did get rid of the Bavarian Polka and things like that because we didn’t have a lot of room,” she said.

Dittmer still has over 5,000 records on shelves in the hostel’s music room, next to a spacious kitchen where guests cook for themselves. One night in the dorm costs $30; a private room is $45. The house rules are prominently displayed on the front desk. No smoking inside. Intoxication and ugly drunkenness are not tolerated, whatsoever.

The last rule has been highlighted several times: “This is a business, if you can’t pay to stay here, don’t try. It is not a homeless shelter. Three days max on non-payment. No sob stories, please.”

“Everybody has a sob story,” said Dittmer.

Of course, plenty of Dittmer’s guests are wide-eyed tourists and others stop over on their way to the desert, or to Denver. In the summer, Dittmer provides employee housing for the Caverns Adventure Park. The two dozen kids arriving in May are from all over the world.  

Other people also show up on the hostel’s doorstep with no other option, or that’s what they say. Joshua Applestill arrived in Glenwood Springs three months ago and found a place to stay, but it fell through. He spent a week at the city’s only homeless shelter. He’d been homeless before and was unwilling to let it happen again, so he came to the hostel and Dittmer let him stay. He found a job to pay her.

This is part of how she pays her bills: Housing people who are, as she puts it, “making a go of it” in Glenwood. When it doesn’t work out for them, it doesn’t for her.    

Dittmer said she’s been overburdened in the past as one of the first places people turn to. She claimed the jail once called to see if she had space for an inmate they were about to release. When asked, the Garfield County Jail commander seemed genuinely surprised at this.

“And the hospital just puts them in a cab and sends them here ... this one guy came one time, fresh out of surgery on a walker,” Dittmer said. A spokesperson for Valley View acknowledged the hospital has sent discharged patients to Jeannie’s hostel, but only at the patient’s request.

Dittmer lives in an addition at the back of the hostel, as do most of her longer-term residents. Judith King lives in a tiny room, which she shares with a roommate. They have bunk beds. Her roommate has to climb up to the top bunk.   

“So I said to her, ‘who lives like this?!’ She said, ‘we do!’” King said.

Despite the lack of privacy and the tight quarters, the hostel has given King community: A community of “loveable losers” as Dittmer calls them.  

King wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I mean, if you’re not working and you don’t go to church, it’s very hard to find those things,” she said.

Communal living sounds a little romantic, but Dittmer’s long-term tenants tolerate each other. They help Dittmer, who keeps a roof over their heads.    

“I’ll help anybody that’s trying, that’s helping themselves, that’s helping me," she said. "I’ll help anyone that’s decent."