More than making arrests: Colorado police sergeant aids homeless family in need

Posted at 10:19 AM, Apr 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-24 10:19:14-04

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. - Eric Downey and his wife Heather Ashburn might look like any other family to an outsider, but the stressful reality they face is always looming over their heads.

A hotel just a few hundred yards away from the park where their children play is the family's temporary home.

"It's just so embarrassing. We've lost three jobs in the last year due to homelessness," Ashburn said.

"Hotels are made for vacations and getaways, not for living in," Downey added.

Some nights, the family doesn't even get to stay in the hotel. Instead, they are forced by their financial situation to seek shelter 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," Ashburn said.

She works 40 hours a week at a nearby truck stop.

It's a face of homelessness few 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," Downey said.

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," Jungclaus said. "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," Downey said.

However, Jungclaus quickly won them over. Within hours, calls were made, and the  Arvada Fire Department delivered clothes and food to the family.

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," Ashburn said.

The family said 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, a man proving police work is more than catching the bad guys.

"It's more about people and helping people and what I can do to help the community I'm working in," Jungclaus said.