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Cabins for the homeless in Aspen

CHARLES AGAR
pitkin county correspondent

Federal officials this week offered the Aspen Homeless Coalition three deserted cabins from public lands near Ashcroft to use as housing for Aspen-area homeless, but coalition members said there’s nowhere to put the buildings.

The U.S. Forest service is getting rid of a total of eight structures on public lands near Ashcroft, and government officials offered the coalition three buildings they deemed worth dismantling and using elsewhere.

The Aspen Homeless Coalition is made up of area law enforcement agencies, representatives from the faith community and mental health and substance abuse case managers working together to help Aspen’s homeless population.

Coalition members have 60 days to decide whether to use the buildings, and thereafter the structures will go to a sealed-bid auction, according to a report from the U.S. General Service Administration.

“I guess they’re pretty old. They’re not up to code and there are no utilities in them,” said Nan Sundeen, director of health and human services and a member of the coalition.

Sundeen was not sure if the buildings were a viable option for housing homeless people, but said members of the coalition have shown interest.

The opportunity is the result of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, which empowers the GSA to gift properties to government agencies and nonprofit organizations working with homeless people.

“They’d have to find a place to put them. And that’s the issue,” said Cindy Houben, director of Pitkin County Community Development. “In this community, I don’t know where you’d find a land appropriate to that.”

“We’ve got too many buildings. We can’t maintain them,” said Martha Moran of the Aspen Sopris Ranger District. And the eight Ashcroft-area buildings being torn down, including the King Cabin, do not fit forest service use, she said.

“These buildings are insufficient. They don’t meet our standards to allow the public in them or let people live in them,” Moran said.

After analysis, forest service officials decided to remove the structures and offer three of the eight structures for use elsewhere, Moran said.

Owners of Ashcroft Ski Touring have permission to construct three new structures: two caretaker buildings near the Pine Creek Cookhouse and a replacement for the King Cabin, Moran said.

“It’s part of a larger improvement program,” Moran said.

The three buildings ” the Kellog Cabin, Hunley Warming Hut and the Schoolhouse building ” are in various states of disrepair.

The Schoolhouse building stands adjacent to the Pine Creek Cookhouse. Built in 1928 as a school and most recently used as employee housing, the 1,500-square-foot, wood-frame structure is topped with a metal roof, has indoor plumbing and gas heat and is in “average” condition, according to the GSA report.

The other structures, The Kellog Cabin and the Hunley Warming Hut, are both beyond the Pine Creek Cookhouse on Pearl Pass Road. Both structures were built in the 1950s. The 500-square-foot, wood-frame Kellog Cabin is heated with a wood stove and has no plumbing, and the 150-square-foot Hunley Warming Hut is in poor condition, according to the report.

Sundeen said she is not sure what it would cost to move the structures and bring them up to livable conditions. And she doesn’t know where the coalition could find land to put the buildings on, but said the group is considering use of the cabins.

“Those are things we’d be looking at and exploring,” Sundeen said.

When asked by a colleague whether homeless people would want to live in the Spartan conditions, Sundeen said, “Well, you’ve never been homeless.”

Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com


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