Pitkin County ups homeless shelter funding to help with security, access to resources

In an effort to make Aspen’s homeless shelter safer and more responsive to the needs of its clients, Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday gave the facility an extra $25,000.

The money comes on top of the $40,000 the county already gave the shelter this year and will go toward hiring staff who will remain awake all night and provide access to services, including housing, mental health and substance abuse programs and food assistance, said Nan Sundeen, the county’s health and human services director.

“(Shelter officials) want more supervision and they need staff to stay awake all night,” she said, adding that staff has been allowed to sleep in the past. “(And) we’re trying to create a more robust safety net of services.”

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said the donation to the shelter, which is located at St. Mary Catholic Church on Main Street, helps fulfill a goal of the county’s housing stability coalition.

“We want to provide resources to better serve our homeless community,” he said.

Employees at the shelter, which operates during the winter months only, experienced issues last season with inadequate staffing and people under the influence of alcohol, Sundeen said. In addition, the church building, which underwent a $7 million renovation recently, was damaged, she said.

“Last year, not everybody felt safe,” she said.

Shelter officials are debating this year whether to allow in people who are under the influence, she said, though belligerent shelter guests will not be tolerated.

Efforts to reach three officials associated with the shelter Tuesday were not successful.

More important to county public health officials is hiring staff members to engage with the homeless population and find out their needs and desires, Sundeen said. From there, the staffer can guide the person to services in the county ranging from the detox center to civil legal services to housing, which is most important, she said.

Those who want help and are identified as most vulnerable will be moved to the top of housing waiting lists, Sundeen said.

“Not everyone will pick up on it,” she said. “But this will give (the shelter) an opportunity to develop a relationship (with clients) and work toward their goals.”

The $40,000 the county gave the homeless shelter came from the Healthy Community Fund, a property tax-supported pot of money that is allocated annually to scores of local nonprofits and other groups that benefit the health of the Roaring Fork Valley community.

For next year, the Health Community Fund’s Grant Review Committee already has decided to recommend the shelter receive $75,000 to provide even better services, Sundeen said.

The relationship between the shelter and the county is another example of a public-private partnership to address a particular community need, she said.

Aspen’s homeless shelter served 200 separate individuals last winter, Sundeen said. Colorado has about 30,000 homeless people, she said.