Helping the homeless | AspenTimes.com

Helping the homeless

Dear Editor:

The case of two local homeless men’s illegal interaction with an underage girl in March 2009 has been well documented in the news lately. Please note that this terribly unfortunate incident occurred a year and a half ago.

In response to this and the needs of the community, Aspen Homeless Shelter, in conjunction with The Right Door, Aspen Valley Medical Foundation and Pitkin County Health and Human Services, opened an Evening/Dinner Shelter at the Schultz Health and Human Services Building the following November. We provide hot, nutritious meals and respite from the elements, along with access to case management services, laundry, showers and computers from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., 365 nights a year. We have since served more than 1,640 meals while providing a safe, sober place to go for Aspen’s homeless.

The Day Center room is also available beginning at 10 a.m. daily, along with access to Public Assistance, Colorado Workforce, The Right Door, valley information and assistance and the Aspen Counseling Center. We believe that this service has largely eliminated such above-mentioned situations.

Let us also remember that most homeless persons are not criminals, but rather people with difficult problems – financial problems, unemployment, illness, substance abuse and mental health issues, not to mention homelessness, which exacerbates everything. And, while criminal cases involving the homeless make the headlines and portray homeless persons as victimizers, HUD studies show that about 40 percent of homeless persons report being the victims of theft or burglary, 22 percent have been physically assaulted, and 7 percent sexually assaulted, 24 percent report not being able to get medical attention when needed, and 46 percent are unable to get dental treatment. Life on the street is no weekend campout.

Thanks to St. Mary Catholic Church and others, Aspen Homeless Shelter provides overnight shelter from December through March, our coldest months. We would love to find a “permanent,” year-round location. Aspen has a world-class animal shelter, but our homeless humans have no such facility eight months of the year. If you think this is a just cause, let a city or county official know, or write me at mmleakejr@yahoo.com or P.O. Box 2050, Aspen, 81612. Thank you very much.

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Medford Leake

director, Aspen Homeless Shelter