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Exiled in ND: Aspen, Colo., homeless shelter gives man one-way ticket to Williston

GRAND FORKS -- To the throngs of out-of-state job seekers arriving in North Dakota, add the name of Jimmy Baldwin, originally from California and more recently a homeless resident of Aspen, Colo.

He's coming by bus, supposedly, and with a lot of baggage.

Baldwin has had several disagreements with the police in Aspen and was banned from the Aspen Homeless Shelter due to "a poor attitude and bad behavior," the Aspen Daily News reported Wednesday.

But Aspen gave him one more chance to get his life on track: Somebody popped for a bus ticket to North Dakota.

Baldwin was dropped off at an Aspen-area bus station Monday night. The newspaper didn't say where in North Dakota Baldwin was heading, but the man who bought his ticket said it was to Williston, in the heart of North Dakota's Oil Patch.

"He was determined to go there," Vince Savage, director of the Aspen Homeless Shelter, told the Herald on Thursday. An anonymous shelter donor provided the $195 cost of the bus ticket.

Savage said he told Baldwin he didn't have to go all the way to Williston but could get off the bus somewhere along the way, and he thought Bismarck was a possibility.

"We did not take a dart and throw it at a map and say, 'Oh, North Dakota!''' Savage said. "He came up with this idea himself through a friend, who told him there was work up there."

As the Aspen newspaper reported Wednesday, North Dakota "is experiencing an energy boom and has the nation's lowest unemployment rate, and the idea behind the ticket is to allow Baldwin to find work in the oil- or gas-drilling fields."

Sending Baldwin north also would help alleviate the burden on Aspen's police and court systems, Savage said.

Baldwin, 32, was to appear for trial in municipal court in Wednesday in Aspen after pleading not guilty to a charge of trespassing. He had been arrested earlier on charges of having an open container of alcohol, disorderly conduct and "menacing" a tourist, and he had been banned from Aspen's day and night shelters.

"He's an enjoyable guy," Savage told the Herald, "but he needs to address his drinking. The guy is a funny guy, not unintelligent."

Savage said this wasn't the first time that someone has made an anonymous donation through the shelter to pay for a homeless person to travel, but it isn't common. The shelter "is not a travel agency for the homeless," he said.

The shelter is there to solve problems, and "Jimmy, in this community, is a problem."

A city prosecutor told the Aspen newspaper that he would ask the court to continue Baldwin's latest case for 90 days "to see what transpires with Baldwin's relocation."

Savage said he thought Baldwin would have better luck in finding work in North Dakota, in part because he understood the hiring process to be "less onerous" than in Aspen, where "the average employer ... will do a background check."

Also, Aspen is a small resort community where the average single-family home sells for $3.5 million to $4 million, he said. "It is an incredibly expensive place to live, and he had been here a couple months and couldn't find any real suitable work."

But with his police record and, presumably, a work history that is checkered at best, Baldwin may find the going tough in North Dakota, too. Many companies in the Bakken oilfields, while hungry for truck drivers, oilfield hands and other workers, also rely on references and background checks.

Getting him out of town -- and persuading court authorities to suspend legal proceedings -- "may appear to the casual observer to be a sweet deal," the Aspen Daily News reported Wednesday, but Savage responded that Baldwin hadn't asked for airfare to Hawaii.

"He's going to North Dakota," he said, "in the winter."

Haga is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by

Forum Communications Co.