Aspen homeless shelter returns this winter as its own nonprofit |

Aspen homeless shelter returns this winter as its own nonprofit

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN ” The night shelter at St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen will open again this year ” this time, as its own nonprofit.

The shelter is scheduled to open Monday, Nov. 17. Hours will be from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. and guests must arrive by 10 p.m. Hot soup will be served upon arrival, and all guests will be given a bag breakfast and bag lunch for the following day. Rotating case workers will be present every evening.

Last year, the shelter served more than 90 separate homeless people, according to Nan Sundeen, director of Health and Human Services for Pitkin County.

“The need continues to grow because of the local housing shortage, increased economic hardship and job cutbacks, and the lack of comprehensive statewide support for mental health services,” she said.

Shelter director Susan Johnson said last year, the shelter had 15 cots, and overflow guests sometimes had to sleep on the floor. This year, the shelter has added 10 more cots to ensure that doesn’t happen.

For the most part, the shelter serves homeless men and a few women, Johnson said.

“A lot of them are working but they can’t afford housing, obviously,” she said. “No one can at these prices.”

A few, she said are “chronic homeless” folks who can’t work for one reason or another.

The shelter, which has operated out of the church for several years, has been overseen by several different organizations, said Kris Marsh, president and CEO of Aspen Valley Medical Foundation. Last year, it was run by local nonprofit The Right Door, she said, and the year before that, it was overseen by Pitkin County.

But recently, a small subcommittee of the Aspen Homeless Coalition began meeting to discuss the future of the shelter. The Aspen Homeless Coalition consists of representatives from local nonprofit organizations, religious groups, citizens and public entities such as the county library and the jail

Marsh, who led the subcommittee, said the group decided that for long-term survival, the shelter needed to become its own nonprofit. Marsh pointed out that no other organization in town has a similar mission.

“So to make another organization adopt it was asking a lot,” she said.

Until the new nonprofit can stand on its own, the medical foundation will provide administration, support and ‘incubation’ for the new shelter organization. Marsh expects the nonprofit to be “up and running” within the next three to six months.

Eventually, the nonprofit hopes to operate a year-round shelter, said Marsh ” either by finding a new space or by rotating the shelter among willing churches. Already, a day shelter operated by Pitkin County Health and Human Services offers help during business hours, year round.

But for now, the night shelter will be open at least during the coldest months of winter. When the shelter isn’t open, many homeless camp or find other shelter, said Marsh, but in the wintertime, those sleeping outside run the risk of becoming seriously ill or dying. According to Johnson, the night shelter plans to close April 1, 2009. However, she noted that if there is as much snow this spring as there was last year, she will again look for a way to keep it open longer.

The shelter is funded entirely by donations, said Marsh. This year, she said, it will need to raise $30,000 to meet its budget ” money it plans to raise through requests to local service organizations, businesses, individuals and foundations.

The shelter also welcomes in-kind donations. So far, St. Mary’s has promised to donate its church building to house the homeless, and Aspen Valley Hospital and the medical foundation have agreed to share the cost of food at the shelter.

For those willing to give time, volunteers are needed during the hours of 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. every evening to assist with tasks such as setting up cots, picking up food from Aspen Valley Hospital, shoveling snow, serving hot soup ” and simply providing what Johnson calls “a human element.”

“Being homeless can be a real bummer,” said Johnson. “People treat you like you’re diseased or something … They can’t relate to being homeless.”

A training held on Nov. 6 was well-attended, said Johnson, attracting more than 20 potential volunteers. Additional trainings will be held on Nov. 12 and Dec. 3 from 7 to 8 p.m. at St. Mary’s ” and several more will be scheduled in January. All volunteers must attend one training.

Donations can be sent to the foundation until the new nonprofit is incorporated. Note that the donations are for the AVMF/Homeless Shelter, and mail them to P.O. Box 1639; Aspen, CO 81612.

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