Volunteers needed for Sunday cleanup at Intercept Lot camp

Charlie, left, and Vince Thomas pass the football in the Aspen homeless camp after dinner on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. The two shared laughs as Vince pretended to throw the ball to Charlie and fake him out. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

A final cleanup for the COVID-prompted homeless camp at the Brush Creek Intercept Lot is set for Sunday after the logistics of keeping it open became untenable, a county official said Friday.

The facility closed Monday, though a coalition of agencies have worked to provide both overnight and day shelter winter options that cover 22 of every 24 hours for those living in the area but experiencing homelessness, said Nan Sundeen, Pitkin County’s director of human services.

“It was always temporary in nature (and) set up in response to COVID,” she said Friday. “We made that decision (to close it) in August, which gave us three months to help people make plans.”

The camp — known as a Safe Outdoor Space — was established by Pitkin County’s Health and Human Services Department and others in April 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down society. It was only supposed to last for several months, with space for 11 people without homes to be able to observe lockdown orders safely.

Eventually, the site was modified for the 2020-21 winter and could house up to 25 people with electricity, bathrooms and a large tented area for cooking. Case managers visited the camp to provide resources to residents who wanted mental health or substance abuse treatment. The camp regularly hosted about a dozen people

However, as this winter loomed, Sundeen said she realized that the Colorado Department of Transportation — which owns the Brush Creek Park and Ride Lot at Brush Creek Road and Highway 82, in cooperation with the city of Aspen — which rents the site from CDOT — and the Elected Officials Transportation Committee plan to begin remaking the lot in April 2022.

Based on her experiences trying to clean up the camp in May, Sundeen said she knew the area could not possibly be turned back over to its owners in time. In addition, the main tent at the camp had become tattered and would have needed to be replaced in order to provide warmth to residents this winter.

James Hoge prepares potatoes and meatloaf for dinner at the camp as Derich Hantel keeps him company in the communal tent at the homeless camp on Tuesday, May 12, 2020. The Aspen Homeless Shelter brings food to the camp for the evening meal and the clients communally prepare the meals. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Some of those who lived there left the community, others decided to seek treatment and others moved to permanent housing, she said. Eight still lived on site by the time it was dismantled Monday.

This winter, the night winter shelter is located at Aspen Chapel near the roundabout and will run from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day. Guests must sign up in advance as no walk-ups are allowed, Sundeen said. The day shelter will operate as usual at the Health and Human Services building across from Aspen Valley Hospital, though hours have expanded to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., she said.

Recovery Resources in the Aspen area has taken over case management duties for the local homeless population, while the Aspen Homeless Shelter, which used to be at St. Mary Church in Aspen, remains a local nonprofit dedicated to helping solve the homeless problem.

Meanwhile, the tent, the bathrooms, the electrical hookup and much of the infrastructure of the camp has been dismantled, she said. However, some trash and other items remain along the trail to the river and in other areas, which prompted the call for volunteers for Sunday’s final cleanup. The cleanup will occur from 9:30 a.m. to about 1 p.m. or so, and all volunteers are welcome, she said.

“We want to leave it in good shape, the way we found it,” Sundeen said.