Intercept Lot near Aspen floated as possible winter homeless shelter
Because of the COVID pandemic, the Aspen area’s faith community has decided that it cannot house homeless people this winter as it has done in past years, officials said Wednesday.
However, the executive director of the Aspen Homeless Shelter said he would like to see the camp at the Brush Creek Park and Ride (aka Intercept Lot), which has provided a safe space for area homeless people for much of the past few months during the pandemic, continue this winter.
“I would say I’m very hopeful that we are going to come up with a solution for homeless people this winter,” Vince Savage said Wednesday. “It could very well be that we’re moving toward the Intercept Lot as a pilot program only (for homeless people in the winter).
“I think it will be a political battle.”
Politics will inevitably enter into the discussion because the Intercept Lot — located at the intersection of Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road — is owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation, leased by the city of Aspen and run by Pitkin County.
Nan Sundeen, Pitkin County’s director of human services, said decisions about the Intercept Lot homeless camp and what will happen with a winter shelter are still up in the air.
“There is a lot more conversation to be had,” she said in an email Wednesday to The Aspen Times. “I am staying open to all ideas.”
One of the main issues that needs to be figured out first is what the federal Centers for Disease Control and the state of Colorado say about procedures governing homeless shelters in the age of COVID-19, Sundeen said.
“(A homeless shelter) may not be possible with COVID (at which point we will pursue non-congregate shelter) but we are all open to learning,” she said.
A state Division of Housing meeting at the end of August is scheduled to address winter homeless shelters, while the local Housing Stability Coalition will meet Aug. 28 to discuss options, Sundeen said.
The Intercept Lot homeless camp — known to housing officials as the Safe Outdoor Space — will not be immediately impacted and “is to remain open throughout the life of the public health orders,” she said.
Regardless, the county, Savage and the area faith-based community are actively searching for a solution, according to interviews Wednesday. Pitkin County received a $70,000 grant in the spring from the Division of Housing to support homeless services and is expecting more in the future, Sundeen said.
The Rev. Darrick Leier of St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen and the Rev. Jerry Herships of Aspen Community Church said they and other members of area churches are meeting and talking about what can be done for the homeless this winter.
However, both said that with limited space, state guidelines on social distancing and at-risk congregation members, it just wasn’t feasible for them to host the homeless this winter.
“With COVID, it just changes everything,” Leier said. “We have a lot of people who are very fearful of the virus.”
Still, they said they want to help and are part of a growing conversation about how to direct resources and help the homeless community this winter.
Savage said the days of St. Mary and other churches hosting the winter shelter — there usually isn’t a homeless shelter in Aspen in the summer — may be coming to an end.
“Trying to make our program, as complicated as it is, work on someone else’s turf is really fraught with problems,” he said, citing “behavioral management” as one significant issue. “The idea of having a dedicated space has been a long time coming and is the future.”
At present, the best solution is the Brush Creek Park and Ride, he said. A 30-by-18-foot tent already exists at the camp, though the sides are on backorder and it’s unclear when they might arrive, Savage said.
Such a shelter wouldn’t need to be heated much — perhaps to just 50 degrees — in order for the homeless community to remain warm in sleeping bags during the winter months, he said. A diesel generator could provide heat, Savage said.
Sundeen told Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday that while the homeless camp has had issues, case managers have been able to move out the violent members of the community and the camp is functioning well. It costs about $2,500 a month to run, she said.
Savage said he thinks the camp would provide the best solution for this winter, which is coming “quicker than we think.”
“Nobody’s annoyed at it yet,” Savage said of the camp. “(And) the groundswell is this idea (for the winter). If you get enough people going in the same direction, it’s hard to stop it.
“I’m supporting it … unless someone comes up with a better solution.”
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