Shelter pilot program reveals some facts about homelessness in Aspen
ASPEN Aspen’s experiment with a homeless shelter has revealed some things about the community.The St. Mary Shelter Project gathered statistics that reveal the city is home to at least 19 chronically homeless people.In the 53 nights since it opened, 34 different people have stayed at the shelter, each an average of 10 nights. Seventy-five percent of the shelter’s guests are men.According to information gathered at the shelter, more than half are chronically homeless, which means they’ve been living on the street a long time. The rest are situationally homeless, or without a home because of loss of housing or financial hardship.As of Jan. 25, 54 different Pitkin County residents had volunteered at the shelter.”Some volunteers are particularly anxious about talking with people here,” said Nan Sundeen, Pitkin County’s health and human services director. “The visitors [to the shelter] will straighten you out. Just be yourself.”Aspen’s homeless coalition members said they hope to extend the pilot shelter at St. Mary Catholic Church through March, a month longer than originally scheduled.Since it was first proposed last fall, the shelter project has raised more than $10,000 in individual contributions, and the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation donated $7,500. The money funded supplies and staff support.Local businesses donated everything from blankets and pillows to toiletries and a coffee machine. Zélé Café donates rolls and muffins to the shelter.At the Jan. 25 meeting of the homeless coalition, officials from area churches, social-services agencies, government and law enforcement discussed opening a day room at the health and human services building near Aspen Valley Hospital. The day room would give the homeless a place to rest, get out of the weather, use a telephone and have access to support services.Coalition members also discussed a breakfast program but recognized it would take a lot of work. Feeding people en masse means following state and local health codes. The idea of tapping local restaurants for support also came up.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is email@example.com.