Help is around the corner in the Aspen area, just keep your distance
As of noon Thursday, $60,417 from a COVID-19 relief fund had been cleared for distribution to 66 of the roughly 1,000 applicants seeking financial relief from a fund established by Pitkin County.
The number of local residents asking for aid shows the global pandemic known as the coronavirus isn’t just impacting those sets often characterized as “vulnerable,” said Nan Sundeen, director of Pitkin County Health and Human Services.
“The term ‘vulnerable’ has really broadened significantly” in the wake of the novel coronavirus, Sundeen said, noting people who are independent-natured and otherwise wouldn’t seek help are reversing course in this time of job losses and social isolation.
“I think we have a super-independent culture and it’s hard for everyone and it’s new to so many people,” she said. “We are seeing people bravely apply for COVID-19 relief.”
With more than 900 applications still in the pipeline, Sundeen is working with a fund of $1.3 million — $1 million from the county, and $200,000 and $100,000 from the respective municipal governments of Aspen and Snowmass Village.
Sundeen and a group of volunteers have been calling applicants since last week when the fund got rolling.
“People are very happy to get the call and work with us,” she said. “And they are very relieved we can support them. And there are some people we can’t approve based on their (financial) circumstances.”
She also said people need to accept calls from blocked numbers. The volunteers block their cellphone numbers, she said.
“If you’re getting a blocked call, pick it up,” she said, noting that otherwise their applications can’t be screened and processed.
To apply, visit pitkincounty.com/182/Human-Services.
Other sets of Pitkin County’s population, meanwhile, have relied on local services for years but are having to adjust as the pandemic bears down.
That includes the Pitkin County Senior Services center, now closed because of public health orders. Until its closure, the center had been regularly visited by seniors who take wellness classes including yoga, watch movies, play cards and mahjong, dine together and interact socially.
“We recognize socialization is almost as valuable as the nutrition content of the food we provide,” said Patty Kravitz, project coordinator for Senior Services. “We can’t offer that social element right now, but we at least can provide food.”
To that end, Senior Services has hooked up with Aspen Skiing Co. to help it deliver some 45 to 50 meals prepared daily to people 60 and older in the area encompassing Aspen, Aspen Village, Snowmass and Woody Creek. Kravitz suggested a donation of $4 to $5 per meal.
The program has been aided by Skico volunteers delivering groceries and meals to seniors who need them.
“Our overall goal, with as many seniors in this community who are healthy, is to keep them healthy by keeping them at home,” said Hannah Berman, Skico’s philanthropy and sustainability manager.
Berman said the staff of volunteers is lean for a reason — to safely handle the food and meals they deliver in an efficient manner.
“This program enables one volunteer to serve multiple seniors safely,” she said.
For more information on the program, call Senior Services at 970-920-5432.
In Glenwood Springs, the Western Slope Veterans Coalition’s Jesse Beckius/Casey Owens Veterans Resource Center is closed because of the coronavirus. Like the senior center in Aspen, its function as a gathering place is on hiatus, cutting off social interaction its users had enjoyed.
“You have some veterans that continue to come here” only to see closed doors, said Jasmin Ramirez, who works at center. “They don’t believe what’s happening.”
Ramirez said about 25 to 30 veterans from Aspen to New Castle have used the center, where they also have built relationships with the staff.
“We have been checking in with them,” Ramirez said. “We just want to them to know we care and we’re here and that we’re thinking of them and we miss them. This is kind of our shared home.”
More info can be obtained by emailing email@example.com or calling 970-233-8735.
“They can call for anything — food services, whatever, emergency or non-emergency,” Ramirez said. “Or they can even call up just to say ‘hi’ to me and tell me their story.”
She also suggested the veterans crisis hot line, a confidential service for veterans and family members. That number is 1-800-273-8255; press the 1 key when prompted.
The Aspen nonprofit Response, which helps survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, also has closed its offices to in-person counseling and help. It also can only provide temporary safe houses down valley because the Aspen lodges that offered complimentary stays of up to three nights are closed.
“That’s a scary reality for us,” said Response’s executive director, Shannon Meyer, emphasizing that although clients can receive free temporary housing at lodges down valley through Response, the organization has to pay for the lodging.
Even so, Response can provide free emergency shelter (up to three nights for people in imminent danger) and transportation to the shelter via Lyft vouchers.
Another concern is spouses living with abusive spouses during self-isolation. That scenario makes it more difficult for them to reach out for help. The agency’s help line — 970-925-SAFE (7233) — remains open 24/7.
“All of our services are still available,” she said. “Our crisis line still rings.”
Another Response number — 970-920-5357 — is available for those needing to reach one of the agency’s advocates. More info also is at http://www.responsehelps.org.
With St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen closed under guidance of the archdiocese, it can no longer serve as an overnight shelter for homeless people.
Because sheltering the homeless is considered a critical service, the Schultz Health and Human Services Building by Aspen Valley Hospital is housing six to 10 individuals a night using social-distance protocols, Sundeen said.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Response clients can still receive free, temporary emergency housing down valley during the COVID-19 crisis.
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Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved a shorter, leaner version of an affordable housing complex at the Aspen Business Center that will be built for firefighters.