Boulder Expands Hours for Severe Weather Shelter to Serve Homeless

Boulder City Council came down on the side of those experiencing homelessness last night with a unanimous vote to keep the city’s Severe Weather Shelter open for an extended period this winter. KGNU’s Roz Brown says it was a reversal of a decision one year ago.

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Boulder’s homeless shelter for the coldest nights of the year will be open through the end of March this year. The council’s decision is a partial victory for advocates of those experiencing homelessness who have long argued that Boulder’s Severe Weather Shelter does not maintain adequate hours of operation.

Councilmember Aaron Brocket pushed for council to approve additional funds for the operations last year, but could not gain support from fellow councilmembers. He made his pitch a second time last night.

“To keep the severe weather shelter open nightly through the end of March this year, and then next season from November 15, 2020 to March 31, 2021, based on analysis of how well it worked,” said Brockett. The shelter would also open during April and May and other fall months should the temperature drop below 32 degrees.

The Bridge House, a local organization that provides homeless services and programs, operates the cold weather facility. CEO Isabel McDevitt told council the organization could handle the additional days of operation, but warned it cannot sustain every person experiencing homelessness in a sheltering model.

“So the night people walk into a shelter, we should be asking them about their exit plan, because shelter is not a solution unto itself,” she added.

Since adopting a “housing first” strategy rather than focusing on emergency services for the homeless, Boulder has placed several hundred people into permanent housing. Mayor Sam Weaver suggested a better balance is needed between emergency services and permanent housing.

“We don’t want people exposed to the threat of hypothermia and frostbite on the streets,” said Weaver. “But we have to be careful it doesn’t detract from housing because we placed a record number of people from homelessness into housing this year, so that should be celebrated, because housing is the solution to homelessness.”

A permanent “fix” for homelessness was also discussed at length last weekend as part of City Council’s annual retreat. Ideas include possible campgrounds, and a parking area where people could stay in their vehicles overnight without being chased off by police. Those issues will be discussed further at an April study session. Councilman Adam Swetlik, who made solving homelessness key to his election campaign last year, said a holistic approach is needed to make sure all ideas are considered.

The local “Point-in-Time” count of those experiencing homelessness both sheltered and unsheltered is scheduled for next Monday, January 27. During last year’s count, more than 600 people were identified as homeless in Boulder County.