Homeless Aspen couple might get new van
Aspen Times Staff Writer
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Jane Patterson and Michael O’Gara might have a new brown van to call home on the streets of Aspen.
Since an accident July 13 on Maroon Creek Road totaled the tape-covered brown Chevy they called home for more than 10 years, Patterson and O’Gara have been out-of-doors.
But Vince Savage, director of Valley Information and Assistance ” an Aspen Valley Medical Foundation program that helps people who are falling through the cracks ” might have found a replacement.
“It was almost like providence,” Savage said of spotting a 1977 brown Dodge passenger van near Paonia.
Savage took the van for a test drive, checked with some of his donors and bought it for $500.
“I’ve always been kind of a Chevy girl,” Patterson said Tuesday, but proudly displayed the keys to the new vehicle with a wide grin.
Savage, however, said it might be some time before the couple can take ownership.
“It needs some work on the inside, but it runs great,” Savage said, adding that he was happy the vehicle made it over McClure Pass in one piece.
The van’s odometer lists 48,000 miles and there is no broken glass in the vehicle, but the van needs a new muffler, Savage said.
But with built-in beds, a TV and video player, the van could satisfy the needs of the two who’ve been living in a van on area roads for years, Savage said, and he has received a number of contributions he’ll use to fix it up.
“We’re waiting to find out about Jane’s viability as a driver-owner,” Savage said.
A judge Tuesday awarded Patterson a continuance on a drunken driving charge in the wake of the July 13 accident when she drove the van off the road.
O’Gara, who faces a charge of public urination in municipal court today, does not have a valid license, according to Savage.
“I know people out there who think we are idiots for doing this “that we’re enabling them,” Savage said. “But my response is we don’t want people freezing to death.”
The gift of a van might go far to earn the couple’s trust and help them get access to the help they need to “better their overall health and responsibility as people,” Savage said.
The courts could mandate that Patterson comply with social services programs in exchange for deferring judgment on the drunken driving charge, Savage said, and the gift of the van could give them some leverage in the case.
But even without any leverage, Savage said giving the couple the van would go a long way to establishing “trust and rapport” and is the “compassionate thing to do.”
“It’s a hand-up, not a hand-out,” Savage said. Otherwise people just fall “off the grid,” he added, citing the recent case of a homeless man who died of a treatable disease near a Highway 82 overpass.
“We want to re-establish the status quo for their safety’s sake,” Savage said. “We’re just trying to keep them from freezing to death.”
Savage said immediately after buying the van, and without having told anyone or having contact with the couple, Patterson called him out of the blue.
“It was almost like she’s reading my mind,” Savage said.
Asked how the couple will navigate strict local parking laws, Savage said, “That’s up to them.”
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