What now? Homeless shelter closing soon
ASPEN Eight to 10 people who sought refuge at St. Mary Catholic Church will be homeless once again March 31, when the shelter pilot project ends.Twenty-two representatives of the Aspen Homeless Coalition – ranging from a jail supervisor to members of the housing authority, health and human services, nonprofits and the faith community – gathered Thursday to discuss the next step, including a planned day room and a possible year-round shelter.Input ranged from kudos for the winter shelter project to accusations of “enabling” Aspen’s homeless to live unsustainable lives.The winter shelter has served an average of eight people nightly since early December. Some 40 volunteers made 206 volunteer visits and, for the last six weeks, volunteers have provided breakfast and a sack lunch, according to the Rev. Mike O’Brien of St. Mary.”Now that we’re towards the end, people are moving on,” O’Brien said. “I think overall we helped people.” Many shelter residents are working regularly and have improved physical health from getting a regular night’s sleep, O’Brien said. And there have been few problems – just two incidents where intoxicated people wanted to stay, resulting in one police call in nearly four months, O’Brien said.But O’Brien does not support a year-round homeless shelter in Aspen.”Now we kick ’em out of the nest. … We hope they’ll fly,” O’Brien said.The coalition met at the site of a planned case management wing in the Health and Human Services building near Aspen Valley Hospital on Castle Creek Road. The building, now under renovation, will house offices of The Right Door, a substance abuse treatment nonprofit, Alpine Legal Services, mental health counselors and offices of the Valley Information Assistance.”We are not planning to move the overnight shelter from St. Mary to here,” said Brad Osborn, director of The Right Door. But one neighbor on Castle Creek Road was upset that shelter officials already had – at least for two nights.”We have concerns about it becoming a night shelter,” said Karen Ryman, who is a 15-year resident of Twin Ridge, employee housing near the Health and Human Services building.Twin Ridge homeowners held a meeting the end of last week because they “heard some rumbles” about the day facility and possible move of the night shelter, Ryman said. And she was upset that shelter organizers didn’t tell neighbors when they moved the shelter to Castle Creek Road for two nights while St. Mary Church was busy with St. Patrick’s Day festivities.Ryman is worried about security if the day facility becomes a full-time night shelter and wants shelter organizers to communicate with neighbors.Osborn said Health and Human Services is a designated emergency shelter in event of catastrophe, which is why organizers moved shelter residents there for two nights. And he assured Ryman that there are no plans to create a full-time night shelter at the case management wing.”We’re trying to get people to look at their lives and make changes,” Osborn said.And while the donated space will house a day room with showers, laundry area, Internet service and phones, the amenities are simply a way to entice people to case workers specializing in mental health and substance abuse, Osborn said.”We don’t want to get into this enabling thing,” said Osborn, who added that clients will be accountable through regular drug screenings and prescribed treatment plans.”We don’t have a solution right now,” Osborn said. “If I had my way, we’d find a place we can do it year-round.”Some at Thursday’s meeting questioned the logic of a homeless shelter in Aspen.”I still feel as I felt when this started. We are enabling,” said Jerry Rood, who runs LIFT-UP, an Aspen nonprofit that gives people food vouchers and temporary assistance.”We really need to look at the values of what we’re doing,” Rood said. And he is skeptical of the time, money and effort going into helping people who aren’t willing to change, and case management that is little more than acting like “Big Brother.”Vince Savage, whose nonprofit will use the new day facility, said he agreed that there should be no year-round facility, but added that case management works.”In my mind, anybody who doesn’t have a place to stay is in crisis,” said Don Bird, Pitkin County’s jail administrator. Bird occasionally welcomes overnighters in the jail lobby, and said that because the current shelter is mobile (when St. Mary has been occupied during the winter, the shelter moved to other Aspen spots), he suggested finding a new facility.The group will meet again after the shelter closes at the end of March to discuss a possible year-round facility. Renovation of the case management wing at the Health and Human Services building is ongoing, and Osborn hopes the facility and day room will be up and running when the night shelter closes.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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