Boulder City Council Delays Decision on Expansion of Extreme Weather Shelter

After a long discussion about the status of homelessness services and how to improve them, Boulder City Council last night delayed any decisions despite a citizen petition calling for expanded operations for the Severe Weather Shelter. KGNU’s Roz Brown has more.

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When veteran Cory Hogg served in Afghanistan he was tasked with quickly building shelters for 60 to 80 troops. He doesn’t understand why Boulder can’t figure out how to shelter its homelessness population.

“We did that in two days with three people with hammers and nails and Boulder can’t seem to house the people who are dying on the streets which is the most serious problem we can imagine,” said Hogg.

Boulder City Council last night reviewed successes and challenges as part of its annual “Homelessness Strategy Update.” The homelessness discussion coincidentally followed a judge’s ruling last week that said Denver’s controversial urban camping ban is unconstitutional – the same ban that’s in effect in Boulder. During public comment, Mark Gelbrand argued that Boulder’s ordinance governing the care of animals was more humane than it’s policy toward those experiencing homelessness.

“It is morally reprehensible for any of you to sit up there and allow one more person to die on the streets of Boulder on a night it’s cold because they can’t use a sleeping bag or a blanket, or a raincoat or something that creates a tarp,” said Gelbrand. “Because if I left my left my little dog Pirate out in the cold, I’d have a ticket or be in jail for animal cruelty.”

In advance of the meeting, councilman Aaron Brockett said he would propose keeping the city’s Severe Weather Shelter open every day during cold-weather months, and not just on days when the temperature is forecast to drop below 32 degrees. Brockett attended a memorial service last month for the 48 people who died last year while either homeless, or having experienced long-term homelessness.

“It just seems that in the winter months 34 degrees can still be a lethal temperature,” said Brockett. “It’s only humane to allow people to always have a warm cot to sleep on.”

But by the end of the meeting, Brockett’s proposal concerning the city’s Severe Weather Shelter had been postponed. The delay came despite a supporting petition with 300 signatures collected by Boulder Rights Watch. The issue will instead get more attention at a council retreat later this month, with council-member Adam Swetlik saying it’s an issue that’s not going away anytime soon.

“It seems to me that all economic, government and climate indicators suggest the number of homeless people is only going to increase,” said Swetlik. “We’re looking at a likely future economic downturn and worsening climate that will force climate migration and a government that isn’t interested in any drug addiction, mental health or homeless services.  So, it’s time as a city we figure out how much we’re willing to pay to not have people living on the streets.”

After adopting a “Housing First” strategy, Boulder has placed a significant number of homeless individuals – more than 300 – in housing in the past few years but many homeless advocates fear the long-term goals are coming at the expense of more short-term, emergency services. Like Swetlik, council-member Rachel Friend pointed out the complexities that need to be addressed.

“We need to talk about right-to-rest, safe parking, tiny homes communities, people who can’t access services because they have pets, or they’re married or they’re service-resistant,” said Friend. “We have a lot of gaps and things that need to be talked about sooner than later.”