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County closes Hotel Aspen to partner with Flagstaff Shelter Services
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County closes Hotel Aspen to partner with Flagstaff Shelter Services

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Flagstaff Shelter Takes Over Hotel Aspen Clients

William Coy, right, stands with his partner Marva Tsosie on Thursday morning in their hotel room. Tsosie has tested positive for COVID-19 and Coy, who has yet to test positive, is caring for her.

Marva Tsosie can see the world bustling from her window.

But for now, her only goal is to quarantine until she recovers from the fever, drowsiness and indigestion after testing positive for COVID-19.

“Everybody keep their mask on — hand sanitize,” Tsosie said. “I’m the one that washes my hands and I’m the one that got it.”

Tsosie was set up in the new hotel shelter last Monday after being moved from the now closed shelter at Hotel Aspen as part of a new partnership with Flagstaff Shelter Services. Tsosie is one of a few people who were transferred to the smaller hotel, which focuses on sheltering people who test positive for COVID-19 but do not have stable housing.

The county expects to pay the nightly room rate of people who have tested positive and are in stable condition. The shelter will continue to pay for the hotel rooms for clients to give them the space to social distance. Homeless shelters with bunk beds packed into one large room were deemed unsafe early on in the pandemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new partnership is the result of a renewed attempt to create a response to COVID-19's impact on Flagstaff unsheltered population, including people who do not have stable housing, similar to a partnership that fell apart in May.

The Coconino County Board of Supervisors plans to release more information on the closing of the Hotel Aspen lease at the Oct. 6 board meeting.

In addition to the nightly room rate of quarantining patients, the county expects to support the shelter’s operations and staff costs at the new hotel. The official decision is pending board approval, according to Kim Musselman, county director of special initiatives.

“[The shelter] has been awesome to step into this space to work with us, knowing it was time to scale down the operation we had going at Hotel Aspen,” Musselman said.

Musselman and the shelter acknowledged that the census of Hotel Aspen was often low, saying that was in part because of the work the shelter had been doing to house unsheltered people.

“One of the biggest reasons [for the low census] is because of the work of Flagstaff Shelter Services, and other shelter partners as well, really limiting their congregate shelter operation,” Musselman said.

Ross Altenbaugh, director of Flagstaff Shelter Services, said the shelter often relied on the county’s health expertise, and described the partnership as a “win-win.”

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“I feel great about it,” Altenbaugh said. “I think it makes sense for us to be working with this population. These are often our clients.”

The shelter is currently housing people out of three hotels, including the one being used as a result of the county partnership. The new hotel will continue to provide the same service as Hotel Aspen by providing a space for people who are housing insecure to quarantine if they are medically stable. More severe cases are managed by the Flagstaff Medical Center.

Since the shelter's clients were moved into hotel rooms after the COVID-19 outbreak in May among people at their congregate shelter, the other two hotels have had zero positive cases.

The county set up the hotel as an option for people who had insecure housing, and a way to help free up beds in the hospital. Musselman said the supervisors have been mindful of the public dollars being spent on the project, but were trying to find the best time to part ways with the hotel. Coconino County first tried to vacate the agreement with the hotel in May, but continued to use it when the state’s cases began to rise.

Both the county and shelter are looking for reimbursement from the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The county and shelter expect to be eligible for reimbursements on 75% of their separate costs so far. Musselman said the county hopes to find assistance with the remaining money.

The county spent $1.7 million on Hotel Aspen between March 19 and Sept. 4.

In total, the county has spent $3.5 million on its COVID-19 response and has only had $500,000 of its expenditures reimbursed.

The shelter has spent $2.5 million on housing 250 unsheltered people since moving their clients into hotels in May.

The shelter continues to be concerned about donations and income through grants and public assistance.

“We’re not talking about faceless people. We’re talking about people in our community who are our most vulnerable, sickest, and in the most need possible," Altenbaugh said. "But they’re also the people that take your credit card, drop off your Instacart or your takeout food. It’s a matter of my health is your health.”

After using biohazard-grade cleaners, the county handed Hotel Aspen back to the private property owner.

Musselman acknowledged there is a possibility that numbers could spike back up and more rooms could be necessary, but said the county would assist the shelter if that should happen.

“If there is a need to be increased, we will work hand in hand with Flagstaff Shelter Services to address other locations that may need to be utilized should numbers exceed current space that Flagstaff Shelter Services is operating in,” Musselman said. “We’re taking it one day at a time, and we can address that in the event it reaches capacity.”

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