A nonprofit has been given more time to refine its proposal regarding the continued operation of a day shelter for local homeless people at Pitkin County’s health and human services building.
For more than a decade, the shelter was operated by the nonprofit Aspen Homeless Shelter, which brought its day-to-day management of the facility to a halt last week, a move planned since late last year. Recovery Resources — another nonprofit that has offices and a detox unit in the same building — is the sole respondent to a recent county request-for-proposals to continue running the day shelter while also providing case management services, Pitkin County Human Services Director Lindsay Maisch said Tuesday.
Maisch said Recovery Resources, which already assists the county and other area partners with case management for homeless clients, has agreed to run a basic day shelter temporarily until the longer-term question of how the space will be used and who will run the day shelter can be resolved.
For now, the day shelter is temporarily closed, meaning clients cannot use the facility for meals, showers, laundry and day-to-day needs as they normally would. Recovery Resources, which has been contracted by the county to seek government grants to assist housing-stability initiatives, continues to handle case management services, Maisch said.
“We’re really trying our best to get the [day shelter] service back in the building as quickly as possible,” Maisch said. “We’re hopeful that by Monday we can reopen but I’m not 100% sure that will be the case. We don’t want it to be longer.”
Recovery Resources submitted a proposal to a selection committee made up of county and city of Aspen staff, along with members of a local coalition that was formed more than three years ago to address issues relating to the rise in housing instability and homelessness. However, Maisch said, the response to the RFP was not exactly what the committee wanted as it was geared toward case-management aspects of the request but not the day-to-day shelter operation.
“The proposal did not reflect any kind of day center,” she said. “It had some great ideas; it was really focused on helping to build resiliency and self-sufficiency in individuals. What it didn’t talk about was, ‘This is a place for people to come to have a safe space.’”
So, the nonprofit will get more time to retool its proposal. Maisch said she believes that following a walk through the available spaces in the building on Monday, Recovery Resources may be more open to the idea of running a day shelter on a permanent basis.
“They are open to creating a new space,” Masich said. “It’s within their scope. They needed to imagine for themselves how the space could look. After they walked through the space, I think they started to envision how they could align it within their mission.”
Meanwhile, Aspen Homeless Shelter has been actively moving its items out of the space. The county is removing kitchen appliances as it has been deemed unnecessary for future operations, Maisch said, given that clients are more likely to use pre-packaged meals. As with any space available for lease, the county is responsible for ensuring that it’s clean and ready for the next tenant.
As for the temporary day shelter that may or may not reopen next week, Maisch said Recovery Resources has been working tirelessly to get it ready for its work there. The fire marshal has to inspect the space, and there are other official requirements related to food licensing and logistics.
In the end, a day shelter doesn’t necessarily need to be in the same space where the Aspen Homeless Shelter had its facility, Maisch said. There are other available spaces in the building. All of those details will be worked out in time, she said.
The county is not interested in taking over direct operations of the day shelter “at this time,” Maisch said. During the heart of the pandemic, from spring 2020 until fall 2021, the county set up a temporary 24/7 shelter for homeless residents. Configured in a section of the Brush Creek Park and Ride lot, the “Safe Outdoor Space” encampment housed anywhere from a handful of people to more than 25 on any given day.
Living in cars, campers, trucks and tents, and congregating in other makeshift structures, the SOS camp was a place of refuge from COVID-19. Residents had electricity, heaters, a security presence, bedding materials, food, water, a restroom facility and showers. The cost of the facility’s operations and infrastructure was largely covered through federal pandemic-aid dollars.
Maisch said the county’s goal is to assist other organizations in running a shelter.
“We really want to try to empower our partners. If that doesn’t work, we may have to have some other conversations,” she added.
Consultant John Dougherty, principal of Human Service Innovations, who has been assisting Recovery Resources and the Aspen Homeless Shelter in the day shelter management transition, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.