It's Tuesday afternoon, and Herb Allair steps out of the county courtroom.
He wears layers and layers of clothes. His white hair is matted, and his beard is roughly cut. His large, unwieldy backpack sits on a table nearby.
There are not many homeless people in Steamboat Springs -- in fact, police and food bank volunteers call Allair the city's only "mainstay."
In a city with no homeless shelter or soup kitchen, where winters get bitterly cold, somehow Allair has made it.
He has stayed in churches, picked up his allotment of food at LIFT-UP and warmed up with a cup of coffee in places that didn't turn him away.
But now, some wonder if that could -- or should -- change. On Tuesday, Allair was given a permanent restraining order to
keep away from the LIFT-UP food bank and nearby offices in downtown Steamboat. The order came after an incident in which he hit a volunteer with a milk jug.
His story, his words
When asked, Allair sits down in the row of wooden chairs outside the courtroom and talks about his life. Today, he talks about inventions.
His gaze is direct. His voice is quiet and thoughtful but intense. He uses intelligent words. He talks in "millions" -- millions of ideas, millions of inventions, millions of people he has helped and companies he has worked for.
He talks about his "vertical takeoff aircraft" that uses an electric engine, his ship that travels 5,900 mph because of a special steam engine, his computer chips designed to work 1,000 times as fast as today's chips.
He talks about work to feed people and house them in big tents, to build orphanages where children get bikes and hot meals.
He talks about how he hears and is heard by people around the world because of chemical signals through the air.
"At one point or another, most of the world could hear me," Allair said. "I didn't want this to happen."
By the law
When police see someone on the streets of Steamboat Springs, their first concern is the person's welfare, Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae said.
Police check that he is not going to freeze, make sure he has food and find out whether he has family or friends in town.
The rules are straightforward: There is no camping allowed within city limits. If someone is in town for a night and needs help, police refer him or her to LIFT-UP of Routt County, which has a fund to help out with a hotel voucher or gas money.
When the Greyhound bus still was coming through town, people could get tickets to Denver or Vernal. Now, police help them find other arrangements.
Most of the homeless people that Steamboat residents see are just passing through, Rae said.
"'I'm trying to get a job here,' 'I'm trying to get to California,' whatever their story is," Rae said. "(We) try to be flexible.
"It's tough being a homeless person in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in February. If we can help them along, we do."
His story, their words
Allair's story, in his own words, is vague. He does not seem to tell it directly.
Old friends in Steamboat remember when he first came to town in the 1970s, straight from Killington, Vt. He worked first at a restaurant, then at a local software engineering company. He was a ski racer, by some accounts.
In the mid-1980s, he seemingly left town. Then, one day about a decade ago, people began to see him again, this time with a big backpack. Some years, he stayed just for the summers, and then he began staying just for the winters, and recently, year round.
James Billys gave Allair his first restaurant job and said he guessed he knew Allair better than others. He said he has no explanation for why Allair is homeless, but that his situation is unique, as there typically aren't "street people" in ski towns.
Charlie Trungale is a community service officer in the city, and when he works bike patrol he makes sure to check on Allair. Trungale worries most about Allair on cold nights, thinking of him sleeping outside in one of the various spots that Trungale did not want to reveal.
He said he has encouraged Allair to leave and go to Denver or another city where soup kitchens, missions and social workers could help him.
Those services just aren't available in Steamboat, so Allair "is out here on his own," Trungale said. To that, Trungale said, Allair replies that he does not like Denver because it's dangerous, and he could get beat up.
"Everyone seems to be ignoring it," Trungale said. "They're pushing him further and further into the closet."
To Trungale, that is not acceptable.
"We're a community here, and we have to take care of our community members whether they're good, bad or indifferent," he said. "We have to accept them and try to offer dignity and respect to people."
By the mind
In some instances when people live on the streets, mental health officials can intervene. But those cases are limited because of rules passed since 1963, said Tom Gangel, division director of Colorado West Mental Health.
Gangel was clear that he could not discuss any one person specifically, but in general, mental health officials have guidelines to follow if someone on the streets seems in need of assistance.
First, his office has to receive a call from someone, such as a referral agency like the police department, or a friend of the person. Then, mental health officials respond and evaluate the person, looking only to see whether he or she is homicidal, suicidal or gravely disabled. That means the person is likely to kill someone else or himself, or is at serious risk of harming himself, because of a mental illness.
If the person falls in one of those categories, mental health officials can intervene. If the person does not, but seems to have a mental illness, officials can encourage him or her to get help, but cannot force anything.
The goal of the rules made in 1963, Gangel said, was to give people with mental illness a choice. Before then, many people were simply institutionalized and forced to take medicine -- without a choice.
"It was just too easy to put people in institutions, and that's what we were doing," Gangel said.
There are thousands of people capable of living in a fully delusional state, he said. That may seem terrible, but it is the reality of having a choice, Gangel said. Many of those same people still are productive. Some are brilliant.
There is a bigger question, though: If people who are mentally ill are not taking medication and are living on the streets, are they choosing that, or is their mental illness choosing that for them? It is a strange question that rubs noses with the philosophical and scientific realms.
But mental health officials are trained to make that call, Gangel said.
People are "allowed to say, 'No,'" if they don't want to be treated, Gangel said.
"And (choice) is actually a wonderful thing ... most of the time," he said.
On Oct. 27, according to police reports, Allair went into the LIFT-UP food bank at about 1:15 p.m., as he usually does. In court Tuesday, he said he liked to go early to get the "first choice of things."
He took a gallon of milk. A volunteer scolded him for taking all of the milk for himself, and an argument began, with Allair swearing and calling the volunteer names, according to the report.
During the argument, Allair struck the volunteer with the gallon of milk, and pushed her against the wall, the report stated.
No criminal charges were filed, but the Steamboat Springs School District, which owns the property, as well as LIFT-UP, which leases space for the food bank, requested a permanent restraining order to keep Allair away.
With that order, Allair cannot go within 25 yards of the school district's property enclosed by Seventh and Eighth streets, and Pine and Aspen streets. Efforts will be made to get Allair food off the property.
Court documents said that based on the incident and "apparent deterioration" of Allair's mental state, the school district and LIFT-UP think Allair "poses an imminent danger" to the employees and patrons of LIFT-UP and other organizations on the school district's property, court documents stated.
The injured volunteer, Sue Bockelman, described bruises on her face that have yet to heal and pain in her shoulder and neck when she lifts things. She also described being very scared during the argument, and having "no idea what (Allair) was going to do to me or the other clients."
She has kept volunteering since the incident but always checks to make sure Allair is not around before going inside. Last year, Allair was helpful and considerate when he came into LIFT-UP to get food, but this year, he has been more demanding and unpredictable, Bockelman said.
What makes her most frustrated, she said, is that there are many people -- single mothers, or people who have hit a spell of bad luck -- who are working hard to make ends meet, and there are never enough resources.
"Those are the people -- who are trying to work and trying to do their jobs ... that we should be helping," Bockelman said. "We can't provide all the services to somebody that's trying because we're giving so much of our time and our financial resources to somebody who's not trying."
LIFT-UP is not a homeless shelter. There simply is not a need for one in Steamboat, LIFT-UP Executive Director David Freseman said, and there are not the resources, even to do it for just one person.
The organization has provided food for Allair and will continue to do so, Freseman said, even if it means that someone else has to get the food from LIFT-UP and bring it to him.
"Part of our mission is to reach out to people in need," he said. "That includes Herb. But we can't house him year-round. That wouldn't be economically feasible."
A story ends
Allair is finished talking about inventions. He stands up and puts on his blue hat, straightens his black trench coat, and pulls up his ski pants that he wears over jeans.
He steps over to the table on which his pack sits and puts his arms through the straps, heaving to get the load up on his back.
He says it's really not that heavy, just big.
He asks if he can use the elevator to get downstairs, as his pack doesn't fit under the security screener.
At the end of a half-hour conversation filled with larger-than-life descriptions, Allair says one thing so clear, so simple, that it has to be true.
"It's very cold outside," Allair says. "I get soaked all the time. It's very wet."