Welcome to Aspen, Colorado, y’all
Thank you, Nan Sundeen, for offering the voice of reason amid the let’s-house-the-refugees-in-Aspen talk this week.Don’t get me wrong. I share the desire to make some meaningful contribution to the hurricane relief effort. Everyone does. But suggestions that we roll out the welcome mat to those left homeless by this disaster put compassion and commendable intentions over rational thought.Talk about culture shock. Bring people who’ve lost everything to a place where they can afford nothing? Haven’t they suffered enough?Sundeen, Pitkin County’s director of health and human services, was brave enough to point out the folly in this idea.Yes, Aspen is a beautiful place, with more than enough wealth to finance a new start in life for some folks who don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if you’ve spent your life in flip-flops and shorts, the sight of snow dusting the peaks before the month is out may run contrary to more than your wardrobe. Every time I reach for jeans in late August, I still shiver in disbelief.As City Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss pointed out, many of the Katrina refugees are infirm, elderly and/or living in poverty. They stayed because they had no means to leave and nowhere to go. I’m not sure we can relate.Our idea of “poor” is working three jobs all winter, owning a $2,000 mountain bike and spending the offseason surfing in Mexico and camping on the beach.And to delicately broach the unbroachable by addressing the situation in reverse, if I had no home and nowhere to go, I’m pretty sure being dropped into an unfamiliar community in which I was virtually the only white person would be challenging. My new neighbors could be as gracious and generous as I suspect Aspenites would be to Katrina refugees, but I would feel isolated and more than a little out of place. My transition from a mountain town to a large, urban area would prove equally distressing.On the surface, though, Aspen seems like a logical host community. We’ve got lodging vacancies for the next three months, a multitude of vacant homes and seasonal worker housing that sits mostly empty during the offseason.But who’s going to share the security code to their gated driveway on Red Mountain and hand penniless strangers the keys to the Hummer and the front door? Putting folks up in local lodging is a short-term solution at best. Are we going to toss them on the street when it’s time to put paying guests in those rooms?That leaves dormitory-style worker housing – not exactly suitable for families, but we could take the single, able-bodied refugees and offer them tourist-industry service jobs.It’s admittedly nice to contemplate some former New Orleans resident making a new life in the mountains, loving it and staying. Many of us have done the same, via one route or another. Imagine their surprise a year from now, though, when the Labor Day “jazz” festival brings such headliners as Loggins & Messina, Widespread Panic and John Fogerty.Janet Urquhart regrets she never made it to old New Orleans. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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