In three months the Boulder City Council will hold a study session on Boulder’s homeless issue. Ahead of that, KGNU’s Roz Brown says the city’s Human Relations Commission held a public hearing Monday night where residents voiced their opinions about what’s working and what’s not.
The discussion was about how to best help the homeless in Boulder. But there did not appear to be any homeless people at the meeting, and Darren O’Conner with Boulder Rights Watch suggested it’s because they’re too afraid to speak up.
“You’re going to hear tonight from city staff, that no one has been turned away from the homeless shelter and therefore we have enough beds,” said O’Conner. “I’m here to tell you on behalf of homeless people who are too afraid of retribution from the homeless shelter staff, that people are being turned away.”
In the past year, the Boulder Homeless Shelter, with funding from the city and has begun moving away from emergency services for the homeless and instead adopted a “housing first” strategy. The theory is there’s a better chance of solving the homelessness crisis if long-term help is emphasized over short-term services.
Kelley Hanson now has housing after being homeless for several years. She said she was earning 80-thousand dollars a year at one point, but her life spiraled out of control after her parents died and she was left alone with no siblings or extended family. Now, after experiencing homelessness, she can’t find an employer willing to take a chance on her.
“I have several municipal tickets for camping, trespassing, open container – things I had to do to survive,” said Hanson. “Also failure to appear in court – where was I going to get the money? Then there was community service – you can’t get anywhere to do that without a bus ticket. The point is, now I’m having difficulty getting a job and being a productive citizen.”
Sarah Jane Cohen helps serve food to the homeless at Congregation Har Hashem. But she was not allowed to serve three men who showed up there this week because they had not registered with Path to Home Navigation – Boulder and Boulder County’s new program that again, focuses primarily on housing, not emergency services.
“It’s not O.K. to not feed people, it’s not O.K. to not provide shelter. We are a rich, and I like to think loving, welcoming city and we are not treating these people as we should.”
Longtime Boulder resident and homeless advocate Evan Ravitz pointed out the hypocrisy of Boulder’s well-meaning ideologies.
“The city has an ordinance that requires pet owners to cover their pets when it’s cold,” said Ravitz. “It also has an ordinance that prohibits people from covering themselves when they’re outside and it’s cold. This is beneath contempt. It makes Boulder’s claim to be a sanctuary city, a joke. These people need to be left alone, and allowed to pull a blanket over themselves and set up a tent. The city could establish a campground like dozens of other cities across the country, and then eventually it will become tiny homes. Instead they’re walking around with 50 pounds on their back when they’re fifty-years old looking for a place to lie down where cops aren’t going to kick them at four o’clock in the morning and make them get up.”
Boulder City Council will examine how successful efforts to coordinate services for the homeless have been at a study session in February.