Three Boulder City Council members uttered the words “camping ban” last night at a study session.
Those who work to support those in need of housing are celebrating.
Boulder City Council held a study session last night to discuss Boulder’s Energy Future, to get a Human Services Strategy Update, and to get a Homelessness Sheltering Season Update.
The Boulder community has a history of supporting human services. Voters approved tax increases in 1992 and then again in 2009 to support these services. Most recently in 2014 voters approved to extend the $5 million dollar Human Services Safety Net that was due to expire this year. This tax will now continue to 2030.
Those who either work for the rights of un-housed Boulderites or work for organizations that provide services to them stayed until the end of the study session to get the homelessness and shelter season update. After regular appearances to testify during public comment sections of other council meetings that detrimental policies targeting the homeless further debilitate the efforts of those in need of housing, homeless advocates said that city council is beginning to “get it.”
Macon Cowles, followed by Suzanne Jones and Lisa Morzel all expressed an interest in the results from other cities that have ended their camping bans. Jones and Morzel are both currently seeking re-election.
Bill Cohen whose synagogue provides community meals to Boulderites told KGNU that he was pleased that city council is at least asking questions, “The fact that three [council members] mention that they want to review and look at the camping ban is a sign that they are getting it.”
Casting a shadow on the celebration though was the ongoing narrative raised by Councilmember Andrew Shoemaker that the homeless come to Boulder for its services, “What are we doing to set a baseline now to see whether or not changes in services actually increase the mobile crowd from coming to Boulder essentially increasing homelessness in the city of Boulder by providing more services.” Council members in Aurora, Denver, Fort Collins, and Longmont have all suggested in the past that those without housing are “flocking” to their cities for their unique services.
Karen Rahn, Human Services Director with the city of Boulder said that there is no evidence to support the claim,
“We’ve heard that for a long time that the services that we offer, because we have good services here, that we attract people here. We haven’t found any evidence of that. I think the issue of mobility is that we have people who migrate out of Boulder as well as migrate in. Some of our [Boulder] residents are in Denver and they’re in other communities. The mobility rate is no higher or lower, is really not that significantly different in Boulder county at least through the Point in Time Survey data than it is elsewhere. We just can’t find any evidence that because of the services that we offer, that we’re attracting people here. Denver offers year-round shelter so I’m sure that attracts folks down there.”
Bill Cohen expressed a similar sentiment, “My synagogue does lunch on the holidays three times a year. I talk to the folks and I usually ask them where they are from. And I’m amazed at how many people tell me they’ve been in Boulder for 30 years. They’re homeless. But Boulder is their home. And they want to stay here and they want to get out of that condition and be contributors. I work with them. I know. And this is a step in the right direction. I’m very proud of the staff and the council. And of course the people who volunteer and give all of their time.”
Michael Fitzgerald board member for BOHO and who was once without housing, struck down the “flocking to our city” claim as well, “I don’t believe that. I lived out there with them. They came out here because they wanted to be in Colorado. They came out here because they wanted to be in Boulder, just like I did 38 years ago. They’re just starting out. I’m not the one that’s going to say, ‘Well you can’t stay and you can stay,’ I’m not into ‘How long you’ve been here and what’s your purpose for being here’ because to me, that’s not my business.”
Darren O’Connor who organizes with the group Boulder Rights Watch held a sign in back of council chambers during the study session that read, “SLEEP WHERE? END THE CAMPING BAN” and further expressed that before the study session he stopped to talk to people who were un-housed,
“Before the City Council study session last night, I stopped and talked with about a dozen people hanging out outside that are local unhoused folks. I heard some great (as in horrible) personal stories, such as from a gentleman whose business was destroyed after the flood and who used the insurance money to pay for his kid’s first year of college, leaving him now unhoused. These stories are truly heartbreaking and why we must address the ripped and torn safety net!
I was happy to see more groups–city, county, non-profits working together to create day shelters, and without taking away from that, also have to say that until we stop criminalizing homelessness through camping bans and anti-vagrancy laws, the good efforts will remain tainted by our continued use of jailing people instead of providing positive solutions.”