Aspen aims for more efficient homeless care |

Aspen aims for more efficient homeless care

Charles Agar
Aspen Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/Aspen Times fileShelter manager Danny Hanifen of Aspen watches a homeless man get ready for the night at St. Mary's Church in Aspen.

ASPEN, Colorado ” Helping area homeless people has far-reaching effects ” all the way to the taxpayer’s pocket, according to some local officials.

Whether it’s the cost of police response or an overnight stay at the jail, Director of Pitkin County Health and Human Services Nan Sundeen said chronic homelessness costs the community.

But recent efforts such as the temporary overnight shelter at St. Mary Catholic Church in Aspen and the day room at the Health and Human Services building have meant some homeless people are getting the help they need with less drag on the public dime.

“It pays to take care of the chronically homeless,” said Sundeen, who cited the case of a California man whose needs gobbled up about $1 million in public funds. “I believe that it is not only morally the right thing to do, but it’s economically the right thing to do.”

Case managers are making progress by having regular contacts with shelter guests, increasing a sense of trust, Sundeen said.

“We spend a lot of time trying to prevent people from becoming homeless,” Sundeen said, including stepping in to prevent an eviction. “Because eviction in Aspen means homelessness.”

Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said recent efforts to help homeless people in Aspen are “a very positive thing.”

He’s seen a slight reduction in calls and a few people get help ” mostly by going to larger communities with more resources ” and called the homeless shelter and area case managers “invaluable resources.”

“Unfortunately, there are some in the homeless population that are just not interested in that,” Pryor said.

Pitkin County jail supervisor Don Bird said recent efforts to help homeless people is taking off some pressure. It costs about $125 to keep someone in the jail overnight, Bird said, and when an inmate needs medical treatment, the cost goes up and taxpayers foot the bill.

Officials at the Pitkin County Library, however, have not seen much relief from the many homeless people who take up residence in the library during the day. In fact, library officials are crafting a new policy that would forbid anyone from sleeping there.

The Aspen Valley Hospital spends about $2 million each year on charity care ” a figure that includes anyone who applies for free care and is unable to pay a bill, not just homeless people. But hospital officials said the cost is not much of a burden.

“Relative to our overall budget [of $60 to $70 million] it’s reasonable for a community hospital,” said Ginny Dyche, Aspen Valley Hospital spokeswoman. “That’s part of our mission. We provide charity care to people no matter if they cannot pay.”

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