In Aspen, a camp helps locals without a home through the pandemic. What might a similar program look like in Glenwood Springs?
At a July 22 work session, Glenwood Springs City Council heard presentations about efforts to combat homelessness in both Durango and Pitkin County.
Pitkin County has established a temporary safe outdoor space during the COVID-19 pandemic near the Brush Creek park ‘n’ ride. Pitkin County Human Services director Nan Sundeen provided details about the camp she helped set up.
She said the camp costs about $2,000 per month to cover the expense of toilets, wash stations, a dumpster, and to pay a camp manager $250 per week.
The fencing around the camp covers about 140,000 square feet. That’s enough room for 22 12-foot-by-12-foot campsites with 6 feet between each site, bathrooms, dumpsters, wash stations, and a cook tent. The 22 campsites are currently filled.
Sundeen didn’t know exactly how much time her staff spends at the camp.
“For us, it’s probably 10 hours a week,” Sundeen said. “There’s no funding for our time, but in an emergency, this falls into our bucket of responsibility,” Sundeen said.
The Pitkin County camp was set up to provide a space for the homeless to safely congregate during the coronavirus outbreak.
“The plan is to keep the safe outdoor space intact until public health orders are eliminated. It’s not designed as a long-term solution,” Sundeen said.
Glenwood mayor pro tem Shelley Kaup said that a camp in Glenwood would be one of many options for longer-lasting help.
“We are seeking long-term solutions for reducing homelessness. This is just one piece, to be considered, in many of the puzzle,” she said in an email. “I would like to explore the idea of a safe outdoor space to see if it could work in Glenwood Springs.”
Pitkin’s camp is intended for locals only.
“It’s designed for long-time Pitkin County locals. It’s not a campsite,” she said.
Glenwood Springs City Councilor Paula Stepp said that a Glenwood camp should follow that guideline as well.
“It’s about how we can help these people who are typically our neighbors year-round. I really like Nan Sundeen’s thing that this is not a transient hotel setup, this isn’t like anybody can come in and drop in. These are people who live in our community,” Stepp said.
Glenwood potentially has an existing source of revenue that could be used to fund oversight of the camp.
“We do have the tobacco tax or marijuana funding that could be considered,” Kaup said.
Stepp had a couple of ideas for where the Glenwood camp could be set up.
“I think if we talked about it we could find some areas. Is that at the West Glenwood Springs Mall parking lot … is that back behind the rec center, now that the rec center in town is not as accessible? You’re there by reservation and the parking lot is not used as much. These are ideas I’m throwing out,” Stepp said.
Stepp said there are several benefits of having a safe outdoor space in Glenwood.
“I understand the impact it would make on different neighborhoods depending on where we’re going to go with this temporary housing. But I think it would help our community in a lot of different ways. … If we have a place for them to stay where they feel safe it makes it easier for human services to get ahold of them.
“It helps in our police budgets and EMTs [because we’d have] easy access to these people and know where they are.
“The social contracts that these people would sign to stay in this homeless camp would allow us to manage things better as far as dealing with trash … worrying about fires … helping with sanitation … and COVID tracking and tracing,” Stepp said.
Stepp mentioned forming a coalition to deal with the homelessness issue.
“It’s very important for the county to be involved,” Stepp said.
There is no time frame for when Glenwood might get a camp set up.
“It depends on how quickly council moves on it,” Stepp said.
“We do not have the issue scheduled on a future meeting yet,” Kaup said.
With changes in federal measures meant to ease the financial burden of the pandemic, time could be of the essence.
“I think that we’re on the cliff. We’re about to be overwhelmed again. With the loss of unemployment benefits and the ending of the moratorium on evictions, we’re on the path for another serious overwhelming need,” Sundeen said.
“That is what the experts are warning could happen,” Kaup said.
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Garfield County counted five new deaths attributed to COVID-19 over the past six weeks, even as the county’s vaccination rate continues to go up.