Boulder City Council received an update last night on a year-old program meant to get those experiencing homelessness into permanent housing, and beyond relying primarily on emergency services. As KGNU’s Roz Brown reports, councilmembers are satisfied with the program’s results, but want to proceed slowly with recommended changes.
Boulder City Council will continue its “housing first” policy for those experiencing homelessness. That means providing more prevention-oriented services along with short- and long-term housing. In the first review of data since the program was implemented in October 2017, statistics reveal that 2,448 people sought services in the county, and 383, or about 15.6 percent successfully exited the system and found stable housing. Hoping to increase those numbers, council unanimously approved adjustments to the program for the coming year, but not before councilman Bob Yates grilled Housing and Human Services Director Kurt Firnhaber on exactly what the changes will mean.
“So, you’re recommending that we reduce the number of temporary beds, so we have more money for permanent beds, but the secondary goal is to signal that Boulder has finite resources and we will turn people away and the word will get out that Boulder is not a great place to hang out and fewer people will come here – I don’t want to put words in your mouth but is that what you’re saying?” asked Yates.
“I would argue that we will have more beds with this process,” said Firnhaber. “We are moving people into permanent beds in apartments.”
Boulder has traditionally had a more emergency-oriented approach to helping the un-housed, but experts now say that piling on services will not end homelessness. They add that getting someone housed and off the streets, reduces their trips to the emergency room, contacts with law enforcement, days in the local jail and appearances in municipal court. Still, not everyone agrees that the city’s new streamlined approach is the answer, because some homeless people refuse to use city services and don’t want to be permanently housed. To that end, homeless advocates have consistently protested the city’s camping ban that allows police to ticket the homeless for using a sleeping bag even on the coldest nights, arguing it criminalizes the un-housed. Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones believes the city’s new approach addresses that issue.
“This is great where we’re headed and the progress is amazing,” said Jones. “It’s really hard to have a camping ban, which I think some of us think is a necessary evil but slightly immoral – but if they have somewhere to go, it’s acceptable.”
Last night’s discussion about how to tweak the program did not include a public comment, however many social justice activists expressed their opposition to the plans on social media and elsewhere. Darren O’Connor with Boulder Rights Watch, a longtime homeless rights advocate, sent an email to the Boulder City Council after the meeting saying their plans are unconstitutional and cited a Supreme Court Justice Stevens ruling in 1999 that the Constitution provides “the right to enter one state and leave another, the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than a hostile stranger.”