DESIGNxBOULDER Community Conversations is a series of forums looking at issues facing the Boulder community. Previous forums addressed issues of sustainability and diversity.
On Thursday September 7th, 6:30-7:30 pm, there will be a community conversation on homelessness.
The forum happens at the TREExOFFICE at 1750 13th Street outside in Central/Civic Area Park across the street from Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and the Teahouse.
Marda Kirn, founding director of Eco-Arts, one of the organizations involved in the series, says that the conversations are designed to spark dialogue on difficult issues facing Boulder. Kirn says the events are “trying to bring issues and situations that are in Boulder that really aren’t spoken about often in a public arena beyond the people who are directly affected.”
Previous forums have focused on sustainability and diversity and they all take place at the TREExOffice which is built around a tree in the civic area park in downtown Boulder.
Ann H., an East Boulder County resident and homeowner who survived a 2008 recession layoff, became part of the solution to the problem of resources and homelessness through the Sister Carmen Resource Center. She will be sharing her experience of the fear of losing her home and the stress of a job layoff on a family. “What’s really pulled me through is my gratitude in knowing that I’m very fortunate in whatever resources I have and again we all have needs at different times in our lives and we all have something to contribute and something to give. We all need to be treated with dignity and respect and our basic needs need to be met regardless of where we choose to go forward.”
Jay Young, a formerly homeless person now on the board of Bridge House, which offers a Ready to Work program providing a pathway to self-sufficiency for homeless individuals, will share his experience of being homeless during the 2013 flood. He says the city needs to look at solutions like opening the shelter year round. “Between April and October there are roughly 100 beds that go unused every night.
Young lost his job and then his Westminster apartment leading him to homelessness in August 2013. He spent his first night on the streets on September 1, 11 days before the flood. “I was in such a state of shock of what had happened…My first night basically I slept under a tree and I remember waking up in the morning being so cold…shivering…it wasn’t easy.” Young spent 4 days without eating before he connected with agencies that were able to help him. He got involved with the Bridge House and their Ready to Work program. He now has stable employment and stable housing.
Audrey Johnson with EFAA, The Emergency Family Assistance Association, says there are many families in Boulder County who are “hidden homeless” and not as visible to society. “Families are much more likely to be doubled up or couch surfing…staying with friends…but we do know families who right now are sleeping in their car or who are camping up in the mountains and we’re getting really worried about them because it’s been cold at night this last week.”
Sammy Lawrence arrived in Boulder 18 days ago and he hopes to become a fire fighter. He is accessing services at the Source, a program of Attention Homes which provides shelter, food, clothing, counseling, education programs, health care, transportation assistance, and more to young people aged 12 to 24. He spent last night sleeping on the streets “roughly about 7 o’clock I woke up to a gentleman being rude to me because there was trash in the area where I was sleeping, where I had my stuff. It was interesting because as an African American, Caucasian, Native American man, I’m seen as many different races often. And it doesn’t matter what type I’m seen as – one race sees me as one way and another race sees me as another. I normally get this stipulation on a day to day basis and people don’t realize that even with homelessness it’s even more of a stipulation.”
Lawrence says that the housed community don’t realize the day to day pressures of life without permanent housing. “What if I don’t wake up, what if I woken up by a police officer and am taken to jail, I’m just set back, I’m set back entirely on everything I wish to do in life. How can you treat other people this way, it takes hope away from them.”
Gage Kemp is originally from Las Vegas and has been transient for about 5 years. He also accesses services at the Source. He came to Boulder on July 15th. He says that he sleeps in a hammock near Eben G. Fine park in Boulder. “Police personally told me that they wouldn’t mess with me there and I have not had a negative experience with police personally because I’ve been very respectful to them and they were able to acknowledge that I wasn’t part of the stereotype of grungy mean homeless, which is a real thing, but it’s part of a sect of a subculture.” Kemp says he hopes to one day get a scholarship to go to Naropa University. “Until then it is perpetually my daily action to exercise and study…I study for 6 hours a day.”
One of the major areas of concern and stress for homeless people sleeping on the streets, is the fact that they have to carry all their belongings with them all the time. Gage Kemp says this creates many problems. “Not only is it physically laborious but the way that people interact with you and the opportunities that present themselves are far different.”