Officials concerned about homeless amid frigid temps
With Aspen’s homeless shelter not open for another month and temperatures expected to hit record lows, local officials were concerned Wednesday about the area’s homeless population.
“(Tuesday and Wednesday) it was my first thought,” said Nan Sundeen, Pitkin County’s director of Health and Human Services. “‘How can we help? What can we do? This is not safe.’”
However, according to local officials who assist the local homeless population, there wasn’t much that could be done until the shelter, located at St. Mary Catholic Church on Main Street in Aspen, opens Dec. 1.
“It’s one of our dilemmas because we have limited resources,” said Vince Savage, Aspen Homeless Shelter director. “It’s always been a problem (when early-season cold snaps occur).”
Temperatures on Wednesday night were expected to drop to between minus-2 degrees and minus-7 degrees depending on the forecast. However, temperatures are expected to rise back into the 40s by Thursday.
Both Savage and Aspen police Officer Braulio Jerez, the department’s human services officer, said they’d spoken to clients Wednesday at the Day Shelter, located at the Health and Human Services building across from Aspen Valley Hospital, and none complained about the cold or the upcoming frigid night.
Savage said he suggested “creative solutions” such as couch surfing at a friend’s house, riding the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses or simply “jumping up and down.”
“Some are just going to bundle up,” Savage said.
Sundeen agreed, saying some people don’t need assistance.
“Not everybody needs a solution,” she said. “Some people are OK and comfortable.”
Still, Sundeen said Wednesday she was trying to find emergency funds that could be used to buy hotel rooms for those who need to get out of the cold.
“Our mission is nobody freezes outside,” she said.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Savage said an Aspen hotel had agreed to house up to seven people — he didn’t think that many would need help — for Wednesday night only.
“The good people of Aspen stepped in to help,” he said.
Jerez said Aspen police officials sent an email to all night shift officers to be on the lookout for members of the homeless population who might need help.
“This population is going to be out in the elements,” he said. “It’s nothing I would wish on anyone.”
St. Mary Catholic Church officials volunteer the space for the winter homeless shelter from December to March. Savage said he’s asked Pitkin County commissioners to designate the old Aspen Ambulance District building near Aspen Valley Hospital as a permanent, year-round shelter.
That idea will be discussed at an upcoming county board meeting.
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Many members of the community wrote to laud the former Skico executive and city councilman for his friendship, dedication to family and community-minded spirit over more than two decades in Aspen.