Pitkin County working to keep homeless day shelter open past spring | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County working to keep homeless day shelter open past spring

Jolanta Weiss bags up some of the meal she made for the clients at the Aspen Homeless Shelter in May 2020.
Kelsey Brunner / The Aspen Times archive

While the nonprofit that runs the day shelter for Aspen’s homeless population has decided to close it, Pitkin County’s Human Services staff are trying to figure out a way to keep it open.

“We see the day program as an essential program,” said Nan Sundeen, Pitkin County director of Human Services. “The majority of people go for meals and case management … and we want to keep that going.”

In January, about 50 people in Pitkin County were in need of shelter, and about 100 people have required shelter assistance over the past two years, she said.

The day shelter, located at the Pitkin County Health and Human Services Building across from Aspen Valley Hospital, will be operated by the Aspen Homeless Shelter Board until March 31. The nonprofit decided to close the shelter two months ago.

“The AHS recognizes that after nearly 13 years, in the face of the increasing need and complexity of those experiencing homelessness, a more robust response is required,” according to a Dec. 23 letter from board President Bill Hodges. “We believe this can best be achieved by AHS stepping back to allow a new organization, capable of delivering services in a new way that can sustainably meet the needs of today, to emerge in this role.”

Messages left for board Hodges and board member Erin Fernandez-Ely seeking further comment were not returned Wednesday.

Members of the Human Services staff are now consulting with partners in the community to develop a plan to keep the day shelter open in the same spot, Sundeen said.

“We’re working on developing a stronger program,” she said. “We’re hoping there won’t be too much of a disruption in services.”

Pitkin County’s Healthy Community Fund has contributed between $60,000 and $80,000 annually in recent years to pay for the shelters, Sundeen said. The total budget for the shelters was not available Wednesday.

Aspen and Pitkin County usually support a homeless night shelter as well, which of late has been located at the Aspen Chapel. The Aspen Homeless Shelter nonprofit also ran that facility, though when the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, a camp for area homeless was established at the Brush Creek park and ride lot at the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Colorado Highway 82.

That camp closed in November after the money for it ran out and a local company called Recovery Resources stepped in to run the winter night shelter at the Aspen Chapel, Sundeen said. It was open for two months before the highly contagious omicron variant forced its closure.

At that time, Recovery Resources and the county placed 14 people in hotels for the rest of the winter, Sundeen said. The night shelter remains closed.

Having a homeless shelter in the Aspen area is important because it takes the burden off law enforcement and the hospital, she said.

“It’s a lot cheaper than the cost to the emergency room, the jail and to law enforcement,” Sundeen said.

A message left Wednesday for Aspen Police’s Human Services Officer Braulio Jerez was not returned.