Aspen’s homeless look for early-morning alternatives to McDonald’s

http://www.aspentimes.com/news/20249114-113/aspens-homeless-look-for-early-morning-alternatives-to-mcdonalds

At 6:50 each morning, homeless guests at St. Mary Catholic Church must leave because of the upcoming 7 a.m. mass. In the past, they would typically go to McDonald’s to warm up and get a bite to eat and a cup of coffee, said Vince Savage, who runs the Aspen Homeless Shelter.

But now that the Aspen McDonald’s is out of business, the transients must find another go-to spot during the frigid winter mornings. The library is a popular hangout but doesn’t open until 9 a.m.

The homeless shelter has about 20 to 23 users, Savage said, adding that there are probably 40 to 45 homeless people in the Aspen area.

“They used to be able to walk over to the McDonald’s and get breakfast,” Savage said, noting that Paul Nelson, who operated the Aspen franchise, provided the shelter with meal vouchers for the homeless folks.

“It was a nice thing to do,” Savage said, “McDonald’s showing it was socially conscious.”

At the outdoor fire pit on East Cooper Avenue on Wednesday, a few homeless folks huddled around the flames to stay warm. One of them, who asked to not be identified, said he enjoyed many warm mornings at McDonald’s. Now he hops the bus or walks to the Aspen Valley Hospital cafeteria, he said.

Michael Rainier Meehan-Keefe, 21, said he couch surfs around town and doesn’t use the Aspen Homeless Shelter’s services, which also includes a day center at the Health and Human Services building. McDonald’s was one of his early-morning spots to get warm.

“I’d have coffee and warm up,” he said.

Savage said he received a report from hospital security that there had been an increase in homeless people using the cafeteria since the McDonald’s closure.

“They said it was no problem, but they’re keeping an eye on it,” he said, adding that, “I think Aspen Valley Hospital is probably the second best deal in town for a meal.”

Hospital spokeswoman Ginny Dyche, however, said the cafeteria operator hasn’t noticed a surge in homeless customers in the wake of the McDonald’s going out of business.

“Homeless folks do come to our cafe for free coffee during meal times,” Dyche said in an email. “They occasionally buy a meal, as well. I understand on Saturday mornings we started seeing an increase of visits a couple of months ago (probably related to weather?). As far as seeing an increase since McDonald’s closed, the director of the department says she really hasn’t noticed that.”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com