As nightly temperatures continue to drop below freezing, the Aspen Homeless Shelter will begin its overnight program this evening in a new location. The shelter — which will remain open until March 31 — aims to provide the local homeless population with a safe, warm place to sleep.
“Our primary mission is to keep people from succumbing to the elements,” said Dr. Vince Savage, executive director of the Aspen Homeless Shelter.
Aspen Chapel will open up its doors from 9 to 10 p.m. each evening for those looking for a place to stay and will keep the doors closed until 6:30 a.m. the next morning.
Aspen Chapel has offered to host the overnight shelter this winter while St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the historical host, remains under renovation. “When we heard St. Mary’s could no longer hold the shelter, we felt we had facilities we could offer,” said Nicholas Vesey, minister at Aspen Chapel, the church with the prominent steeple near the roundabout at the entrance to town.
The change of venue may be serendipitous, as Aspen Chapel has a larger space available and can fit more sleeping pads. Savage, who has spent the past 40 years of his career working with homeless individuals, said they expect varying numbers of tenants, anywhere from the low teens to the high 20s. Aspen Chapel can hold up to 30 people overnight.
“We have a classroom set up for the women and we will use the main room for the men,” Vesey said.
The nightly population depends on a number of factors, including the climate, adherence to drug and alcohol standards and the amount of people in the area. The overnight shelter asks that those admitted be sober, but a few beers does not leave them in the streets.
“We ask people to blow no more than a 0.08, but it remains up to the discretion of the staff members,” Savage said.
In addition to the winter overnight shelter, the Aspen Homeless Shelter runs a day center. Located in the Schultz Health and Human Services building by the hospital, the day center provides laundry machines, job assistance, showers, case management services, computers and hot meals every evening. It remains open every day of the year and serves as a place for people to work on their resumes and contact family members. The day center also helps foster a community where information, such as the location of the overnight shelter, is shared.
“Almost every person we deal with has an interesting story,” Savage said. Most of them are just down on their luck from varying problems related to employment or medical conditions. The majority adhere to the Aspen Homeless Shelter’s main motto; a sign hung in the day center reads, “Be nice or leave.” He said they very rarely encounter behavioral problems or criminal conduct.
As a way of alleviating potential criticism or pushback form the neighbors, Aspen Chapel approached the Meadowood Homeowners Association with its proposal to house the overnight shelter. The plan received approval from the association’s board of directors, giving Aspen Chapel the green light to offer the space. The chapel also received donations from the local real estate community in support of the overnight shelter, Vesey said, listing Douglas Elliman, Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s, Engel & Volkers, and Palladium Properties as the key benefactors.
Another common misconception among locals is that the homeless come from all over the country, attracted to the allure of Aspen like so many others. In reality, the majority of the homeless men and women grew up in this valley, Savage said. Many attended Aspen High School.
The funds behind the Aspen Homeless Shelter come from an array of donors. Pitkin County and the city of Aspen donate money. A large part of its capital comes from an event hosted by The Little Nell. Each year, the five-star hotel hosts a $50-$75 plate dinner at Element 47, in which all profits and donations go toward the Aspen Homeless Shelter. This goes on in large part thanks to Simon Chen, managing director of The Little Nell and board member of the Aspen Homeless Shelter.
Even with these generous gifts, the shelter is still tight on budget this winter. With unforeseen expenses and the change in location, Savage said every donation helps. As he puts it, “We’re not giving people a hand out, we’re giving them a hand up.”
For those who wish to donate or are interested in learning more about the Aspen Homeless Shelter, please visit: aspensafetynet.org.