Shelter funded for winter | AspenTimes.com

Shelter funded for winter

Charles Agar

Aspen, CO ColordoASPEN Aspen’s experiment in sheltering its homeless residents has cleared a significant hurdle by raising enough money to pay for overnight staff through the end of February.The shelter has raised more than $9,000 – mostly through private donations from St. Mary parishioners and other Aspenites. The Right Door is a substance abuse case management agency that has been collaborating with St. Mary Catholic Church to open the church’s doors each night to homeless residents. The project also has support from mental health agencies, county health and human services and other churches and businesses in town.St. Mary Church purchased cots, and the Aspen Square Hotel donated blankets and pillows. The church provides space in the church’s first-floor classrooms.”It’s a real good collaborative effort,” said Brad Osborn, director of the Right Door.The shelter project is a three-month experiment to provide basic shelter for homeless people in the Aspen area. It is also an opportunity for health and social service case workers to assess their needs. The hope, Osborn said, is that by helping folks get out of the cold, the community can get homeless people the help they need – from substance abuse and mental health counseling to housing and employment assistance.The shelter is open just before 9 p.m. each evening. Lights out is 10 p.m. And overnighters are asked to clear out by 7 a.m.”We’ve had a core group of people that are local. Most have been here for years,” Osborn said. He estimates an average of five to eight visitors each night, split evenly between men and women.”And then we’ve had a few people come in and out, as well as a few seasonal workers that got stuck for a couple of nights,” Osborn said.The shelter turned away one person because of drunkenness, Osborn said. There are strict rules about drinking and improper behavior.”It’s coming on slowly,” Osborn said, but as a case manager at the facility, Osborn has been able to connect one temporary resident with family in another state, and shelter staff have been able to help with visitor’s major medical issue.Nan Sundeen, director of Pitkin County Health and Human Services, regularly volunteers at the shelter and recently spent the night there.”It was not very comfortable,” she said. “And it gave me a great appreciation for what they experience every night.”Waking up at 6:15 a.m. and ushering folks out into the 15-degree morning was difficult for Sundeen.”That was sad for me,” she said, explaining it is “hard to know they had nowhere to go.”But it was a good experience, she said.”It was very rewarding for me as a volunteer to be able to help out,” she said.The shelter needs all the help it can get. It cannot run without the support of volunteers who arrive nightly at 8 p.m. to check people in and help them get settled.And the St. Mary Shelter Project is seeking more volunteers. There will be an orientation meeting for shelter volunteers Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. in the Rio Grande Conference Room (former Youth Center). All are welcome and Osborn is asking for any and all community involvement.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.

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