Homeless shelter

St. Mary Catholic Church, 533 E. Main St., serves as the home of Aspen Homeless Shelter’s overnight winter facility each year. It opens for the season at 9 p.m. Saturday.

The Aspen Homeless Shelter’s winter overnight facility will reopen for its usual four-month season at 9 p.m. Saturday.

The overnight shelter, located on the ground floor of St. Mary Catholic Church, runs daily through March 31. It relocates to another building in mid-March to accommodate the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration at St. Mary. In the past, Aspen Community Church on East Bleeker Street has provided space for the shelter’s closing weeks.

Shelter hours are 9 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. St. Mary has hosted the shelter for about 10 years, according to director Dr. Vince Savage. Last winter, because of renovations to the church, the Aspen Chapel on Meadowood Drive served as the shelter’s temporary home.

“It’s very much in the Catholic Church’s mission to look after the poor and needy,” Savage said. “So we built upon that tradition, 10 years ago, starting the regular overnight shelter.”

He said inclement weather involving big snowfalls or below-freezing temperatures can sometimes lead to earlier openings or later closings. While snow is in the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, current plans call for the shelter to open on Saturday.

“Not only does St. Mary allow us to use their space for free, they actually donate money to the cause,” Savage said, adding that Douglas Elliman Real Estate staff recently provided new sleeping pads for the shelter.

New storage units were installed at the church to accommodate shelter equipment such as sleeping pads and linens, he said. The shelter can serve as many as 30 users in a single night, with the typical daily census running in the upper teens to mid-20s, Savage said.

“It depends on who’s in town and what’s going on, who’s in need of housing in the cold winter months,” he said.

The one-season hiatus away from St. Mary worked out, although there were a few ups and downs associated with using Aspen Chapel, he said. Savage said he was grateful the winter shelter wasn’t closed for a full season.

“We were able to pull it off,” he said. “It seemed that the [Aspen Chapel] congregation wasn’t 100 percent behind what we were doing. …To be fair, part of the issue was just us having to change our habits.”

Savage noted that Aspen Homeless Shelter has its own paid and trained staff to handle winter-shelter operations. In addition to operating the seasonal facility, the nonprofit has a day center and evening meal program at the county’s health and human services building near Aspen Valley Hospital.

The overnight winter shelter served 217 separate individuals during the 2017-18 winter season. More than half of those were regulars or semi-regulars who used the facility for longer than a week or two, Savage said.

He estimated that the overnight shelter has been growing between 10 and 15 percent annually, in terms of total users, since it was started a decade ago. Shelter users are vetted, he pointed out, and must register nightly. Once allowed in, they are expected to stay there — they cannot come and go throughout the night.

Aspen Homeless Shelter currently operates through a $340,000 annual budget. Donations to the nonprofit can be mailed to the main office at 405 Castle Creek Road, Suite 16, Aspen, CO, 81611.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.