Aspen, Pitkin County hear of hard times |

Aspen, Pitkin County hear of hard times

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Representatives from Pitkin County’s Health and Human Services network on Tuesday went before elected officials asking for about $2 million in funding for next year.

The request represents nearly $400,000 more than what was granted last year by Pitkin County and the city of Aspen.

And while the Aspen City Council and Pitkin County commissioners are still considering the requests, the nine individuals representing 33 health and human service agencies appeared to have succeeded in convincing officials that there is a dire and increasing need to help locals who have fallen on hard times.

They told countless stories of people who have lost their jobs, are facing foreclosure or have medical issues, and senior citizens who have lost their savings and investments.

The council has budgeted $352,000 to fund health and human services in 2010. However, the request is for $461,000.

Mayor Mick Ireland suggested that an additional $50,000 be granted, and Councilman Dwayne Romero countered that the city should try to fulfill the entire request. Ireland agreed and noted that additional funding in hard financial times is what measures a community.

“Not how much you give during flush times but how we treat our less fortunate in bad times,” he said. “At a time when you are cutting things, it’s meaningful. It expresses to those in need that the community is behind them.”

Health and human services agencies receive funding from the Pitkin County Healthy Community Fund. For 2010, $1.4 million is available for nonprofit funding.

Network representatives told elected officials that much has changed in the last year: The level of economic, social and environmental stress has increased dramatically due to the weak economy, resulting in dramatic increases in demand for services and significant demand for more subsidy of services.

They also said a new population not previously served by health and human services agencies has emerged – middle class individuals and families who are experiencing financial duress.

As service demand has increased, agencies are impacted by funding decreases, and are having to cut their budgets and staffs.

Jonathan Shamis, executive director of Alpine Legal Services, said the number of people seeking help from the agency has doubled in the past year. And they are coming in with more complicated and convoluted problems, he added.

“These are people who never needed assistance before,” Shamis said.

He told a story of a local psychologist who suddenly faced a medical situation and was unable to work as a result. His home is now being foreclosed on.

Marty Ames, director of Pitkin County Senior Services, said many seniors have high anxiety levels because they have lost their retirement nest eggs, and aren’t getting an increase in Social Security payments next year. They are worried about the future, Ames stressed.

She told a story of a woman whose son lost his job; she feels compelled to financially assist him and his family but at the same is worried that her minimal savings will run out.

There were several other personal stories told about the plight of individuals in the valley, leaving elected officials depressed but grateful that there is a strong network of agencies to assist the down and out.

Lori Mueller, program director for YouthZone, ended the presentation by cheering up council members and commissioners by telling a story of a 17-year-old girl who was facing criminal charges for petty theft. At 15, she had been abandoned by her mother and had been taking care of herself.

With a collaborative effort by several agencies, the woman has graduated high school and is now attending Mesa State College. She is the only member of her family who has a high school diploma.

The story moved Commissioner Patti Clapper to tears.

“What you guys do is so appreciated,” she said.

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