Story behind Lexington woman who froze to death

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The death of a 62-year old, homeless woman in Lexington on January 14th reminded us about the dangers of frigid temperatures. She froze to death at a camp, that she and her partner called home.

They were just a couple of miles from a warm bed at the Catholic Action Center. In fact, there are some homeless who choose the camps over shelters... even in sub-zero weather. We wondered why, and went looking for answers.

He goes by Eagle Boy.

A Sioux Indian from the Montana reservations who now makes his home in Kentucky.

Eagle Boy is riding with our news crew to guide us to some homeless camps.

WKYT's Sam Dick asked him, "Are you homeless now?"

Eagle Boy says, " I wouldn't call myself homeless. I'm houseless. I call Lexington my home."

As far as homeless camps, he says there are many in the Lexington area.

"There's a lot of them. They're pretty well hidden."

Eagle Boy agreed to take us to a couple of the hidden, Lexington camps where homeless people live... if we don't show his face. He's lived in the camps, and only recently slept at the Catholic Action Center because of the below zero temperatures.

He's also asked that we not reveal the exact location of the first camp.

We get out and begin walking on a snowy path.

"You gotta watch your footing...kinda goes on a slope."

On the edge of the UK campus, near hospitals and shopping areas, a hard-to-find camp is at the end of a snowy path.

"It's been used for a good three years. It should still be there."

At first glance, it's a collection of wood and metal siding. To Eagle Boy, this is someone's home that deserves respect. We stay about 75 yards away.

Eagle Boy says, "And there's a queen size bed in there. And on the other side, there's a fire spot, a little fire pit, and there's another tent on the other side of that one... like a little 4 man tent."

Sam Dick: "This is their home. Can you speak to that? This is not something temporary."

Eagle Boy: "Yea, it's home, it's home."

Eagle Boy says the campers will wrap themselves in 9 or 10 blankets, and layer up in coats to survive a night of brutal temperatures.

But why endure that when a warm bed or mattress waits at the shelters.

"They just want to be free. A lot of people I know want to be free," says Eagle Boy. "They like being free, of being outside, sleep when you want to, work when you want to..."

The director of the Catholic Action Center says there's another big reason some homeless won't leave the camps for the shelters.

Ginny Ramsey says, "We allow folks to come here at the center if they're drunk. But we don't allow them to drink here, and we won't... because people are struggling."

Ramsey says the woman who died, Cynthia Jean Harrison, and her partner Charles Bowers, chose to stay at their camp in some woods near Hamburg because they wanted to drink. Eagle Boy knows the couple, and took us to the area where they camped.

Sam Dick described on camera how the camp stays so hidden, "To show you how easy it is to hide one of these camps, we're just several hundred yards off of one of the most populated areas of the entire community. This is near Winchester Road and Sir Barton, and this thick growth here is hiding a camp. In fact, this is the area where the woman died the other night."

The Fayette County coroner says Harrison was found in the tent but outside the blankets. Lying next to her, longtime partner Charles Bowers. He survived the night... she froze to death. The coroner also believes alcohol was a factor.

Bowers is devastated and wanted to talk about it on camera. "She was the love of my life... And I lost her, and I'm telling you, I'll never get it back. There ain't another woman out there, that could take the place of her."

At the Catholic Action Center, several people gather to pray with Bowers.

He says, "She was an angel. Anything you wanted, she'd give ya. She'd take the shirt off her back, and hand it to you.

Ginny Ramsey says, "A husband lost his wife. Friends lost their friend. But the true sadness is... it didn't need to happen."

Whatever the reason some homeless stay in their camps despite the frigid weather, Eagle Boy and Ginny Ramsey say the homeless deserve to be treated as human beings, as people who need love, not judgment.

Eagle Boy says, "The people that are not homeless, think that we're not human. That we're not part of society. We're something different. Can't shake that feeling that we're different from everybody else. We live a life that's different."

Ginny Ramsey says, "The most important thing about people to realize is that every human being who is experiencing homelessness, is a human being.

They all have their stories, they all have their loves of their life, they all have brokenness, just as all of us do. They simply just don't have a place to call home."

The director of the Catholic Action Center says Cynthia and Charles had plenty of supplies to make it thru the night. She says, blankets had been dropped off for them. It turns out the mix of alcohol and single digit temperatures... was a fatal one.

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