The Aspen Homeless Shelter will operate an overnight facility from November 1 to April 30 at the Aspen Chapel, dispelling doubts about whether a seasonal shelter would be available during the colder winter and spring months ahead.
The news was announced Friday during an online meeting of Pitkin County officials and stakeholders who meet regularly to discuss issues and solutions related to housing instability. Authorities were seeking a location for the winter night shelter following the summer announcement of the closure of the county’s ‘Safe Open Space’ camp – established in the spring of 2020 to give homeless residents in the area a place to endure the COVID-19 pandemic – will be closed at the end of October. The camp, located near the Brush Creek Park & Ride, currently has 18 occupants, eight fewer than in winter.
The Aspen Chapel, located near Castle Creek Road near the Highway 82 roundabout, previously hosted the Winter Night Shelter in the winter of 2017-18. Prior to that, the shelter operated in the basement of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Aspen.
The change is happening within the nonprofit, which also operates a day shelter in the County Social Services building near the Aspen Valley Hospital. At Friday’s meeting, it was also mentioned that Dr Vince Savage, longtime director of the Aspen Homeless Shelter, recently resigned for health reasons.
Savage did not respond to several calls for comment on Friday. No further details regarding his departure were provided during the Zoom virtual meeting. Pitkin County officials said after the meeting they couldn’t elaborate.
Patricia Bukur, Development Director of Aspen Homeless Shelter, will assume the role of Interim Executive Director. She did not immediately respond to phone messages on Friday afternoon.
When the county began making plans in late 2018 to tackle the problem of homelessness and housing instability in the area, Savage publicly criticized the process and questioned the county’s new initiative. However, over time he began to participate in the coalition of officials and stakeholders, attending quarterly meetings and offering suggestions on how to resolve the issues in question.
Lindsay Maisch, deputy director of social services for Pitkin County, provided statistics at Friday’s meeting that show progress made over the past year in helping homeless people in the area.
As of Tuesday, 100 people were receiving various services under the Pitkin County Housing Alliance program. These services range from assistance in finding temporary and permanent housing to assistance in obtaining health care and employment.
Maisch said 29 people who are not staying are receiving some kind of service through the alliance’s “street outreach”. None of the 29 use the Brush Creek SOS facility, she noted.
Twenty people are given “emergency shelter” in the region through hotel rooms. Fifteen others are the beneficiaries of ‘rehousing ”, which relies on federal funds to provide people with temporary housing if they have suddenly lost their homes. “Quick relocation” can also be a step before someone receives permanent housing, she said.
Of 32 people released from the alliance’s “emergency shelter” program in the past 18 months, 13 have made the transition to permanent housing, Maisch said. But of the 34 people who left the “Street Outreach” program, seven made the transition to permanent housing.
“This suggests that the emergency shelter is a much more effective transition to permanent housing than the street,” Maisch said.
The Housing Stability Coalition also heard from James Hoge, who shared his story of being homeless in Pitkin County to find permanent housing.
Hoge said his “dreams have almost come true” with the help of the county and its partners in the fight to end homelessness. At one point, he helped oversee the county SOS camp.
Hoge thanked his social worker, Wendee Schoon of the nonprofit Recovery Resources, saying, “You haven’t left anything behind to find a better path for me. … My suffering is coming to an end now.
Many virtual meeting attendees praised Hoge for his hard work over the past two years.