On the most frigid winter days, John Hollembeak, 56, passes his time in the University of Colorado's student center.

From an armchair this week, he watched National Geographic on a big flat-screen television and snacked on a candy bar as others taking refuge from the cold slept on the couches.

The area in the east portion of the University Memorial Center, a student-funded public building, has become somewhat of a homeless enclave.

While the UMC has always tended to attract homeless people in the winter, the extreme temperatures this semester -- which have plummeted to below zero -- and a $2 million makeover that added televisions, a fireplace and more comfortable seating seem to be increasing the draw. The renovation was completed in the fall.

The Colorado Daily last week published a letter to the editor written by CU student Ali Flint, who complained that Boulder's homeless have taken over the new lounge areas. She said it's unacceptable that she pays $105.19 a semester in student fees to fund the UMC, which is catering to the homeless.

"It is absolutely appalling that students pay over $200 a year and cannot sit on the couches or enjoy the new fireplace because the homeless are busy enjoying those areas for us," Flint wrote.

She said she sees the same homeless people hanging out in the UMC every day.

Carlos Garcia, director of the UMC, said his office gets few complaints about the homeless, and if visitors break the rules or laws, they are kicked out, ticketed or arrested. But that rarely happens, Garcia said.


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Because the building is a public space, the UMC administration cannot discern who uses it. He said the increase in the number of homeless people using the UMC typically lasts for six weeks in the winter. He acknowledged that the new fireplace has been an added draw this year.

"Every student union building in the country deals with this same issue," Garcia said.

When the homeless shelter closes for the day, Hollembeak said he takes refuge at the UMC because he doesn't feel judged by the students, and he enjoys having conversations with them.

"I'm homeless. I'm not proud of it," he said.

He said he had a place in Brighton until he lost his job as a mechanic in late 2010. This is his second time being homeless, he said, as he was temporarily without a place to live in 1998 when he was working as a carpenter.

CU junior Isabell Godlewski, who works at Jamba Juice in the UMC, said she doesn't mind that homeless people are hanging out in the center because they're not disrupting students, and there's plenty of space.

"It's super-warm in the UMC and it's so cold outside sometimes, so I'd rather them be in here than out there," Godlewski said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or anasb@dailycamera.com.