Turning a short-term rental into a way to deal with the coronavirus crisis

Community coming together—again

by Chad Reich

Correspondent Chad J. Reich sends this as a special to the Crested Butte News from his temporary residence in Athens, Ohio.

Shannon and Steph Shrieves married for 26 years, live in Gunnison, where he’s a carpenter. Steph commutes to Montrose, where she stays four nights per week as a nurse at the Montrose Memorial Hospital. Shannon says Steph doesn’t work in the COVID unit because “She had breast cancer, and is a survivor, which is awesome.”

But Shannon has ongoing respiratory issues. “Steph was worried that if she is a carrier or shows any signs of sickness, it could be passed on to me. We didn’t think I’d end up doing well if I did end up getting COVID.”

The couple decided they had to start making a plan to physically separate during the COVID-19 outbreak. “I was willing to set up a tent or try to borrow a camper from a friend or something, and then I saw that Sasa posted this for absolutely free,” said Shannon.

Crested Butte resident Sasa Watt owns Cloud Cottages, which rents two vacation units and a long-term rental in town. Watt’s vacation units aren’t owner-occupied; they’re year-round vacation rental properties, and her spring guests started canceling left and right once Gunnison County ordered tourists to stay out of the county.

“Oh man, they’re super-empty and sad,” Watt said. She says her vacation rentals were just sitting there when it dawned on her: “I can help. I can provide housing for people who need it, because it’s not costing me any more to do it.” Since Watt can’t make any money on the vacation rental market, she decided to offer these units for free to people on the front lines who needed to distance themselves from exposure to the virus.

Watt posted to the Gunnison Marketplace on Facebook, where Shannon Shrieves saw the offer. “I contacted Sasa, and she instantly said yes and opened up her house to me… That somebody would offer a total stranger—we’re all community so nobody is a stranger. But I don’t know her personally. It was surreal to me… This experience shows me that our community really does care about each other. This just shows there are still people in this community that care about this community, and that they love being here, and they love the people. I can’t thank her enough for opening up her house to me. It’s amazing.”

Unrestricted vacation rentals comprise 16 percent of Crested Butte’s housing stock. Under Gunnison County’s current travel restrictions, those units should mostly be vacant, unless renters are fulfilling roles in essential services.

Watt says that putting her empty beds to work for people on the front lines of the coronavirus can be part of the community-wide solution. “If you can help out the community by offering housing, I would do it. It’s not going to hurt anything. You can vet people and make sure they are a legitimate person who has tested positive, and need a place away from their family. There are ways to go about it to make sure that the person isn’t trying to scam you and stay in your house.”

After Watts’ post, Brittany Rogers of Gunnison-based cleaning service Couture Cleanings reached out to offer free cleaning services to the units. Rogers says she was a certified nurse’s assistant before starting her cleaning business and wears personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.

“It would behoove us to let [the virus] sit for 24 hours to let it die,” Rogers said. “The worst surface it lives on is metal, so we’re extremely cautious about that.” Rogers also says that if cleaning is her way of helping in the fight, “Why not help out in that way?”

With all of the community support, Shannon says physical distancing still isn’t ideal. “The challenge is just not being with my family. Missing out on that seems to be the major mental and physical problem for me. You realize how much you depend on people,” he said. “It’s just hard being away from them.”

But he still manages to see Steph between multi-day shifts at the hospital. “We still FaceTime. We’ve met up but we both wear masks and we haven’t touched,” he said.

Shannon’s family moved to Crested Butte in 1977, where he graduated from high school. He knows how to pass the time in local fashion.

“I do quite a bit of fishing,” he explained. “With the regulations right now, we’re still able to go out and use the trail system and get into the public lands. If people don’t do their part and comply, that could get taken away, too. When I go out fishing, that’s what I think about. Just be in the moment.”

On Earth as we are in the mountains, we’re in this together.

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