Consolidation of Homeless Aid Worries Some on Boulder City Council

With another winter approaching and the pandemic showing no signs of let-up, Boulder City Council heard a report on proposed changes to how those experiencing homelessness will be served this season. KGNU’s Roz Brown says since last winter there’s been a consolidation of Boulder’s homeless services.

Listen to the report:

(Download Audio)

It’s part of a “housing first” model that replaced a more traditional emergency services approach to serving those experiencing homelessness. The change, however, also means the un-housed in Boulder will have fewer options.

“We are looking at many fewer beds this year,” said councilman Aaron Brockett. “I’m concerned we’re going to fall short of the needs in our community.”

Brockett, along with other council members largely accepted the city’s severe weather shelter plan during a study session last night. The plan consolidates all homeless services at the Boulder Shelter on north Broadway this winter – including the severe weather shelter – a temporary refuge inside the location. Protocols there require those who want to be admitted complete a “coordinated entry” screening process. Councilmember Junie Joseph asked Housing and Human Services Director Kurt Firnhaber how that might work.

Homeless individuals settle in for a night at Bridge House in Boulder

“Is there a penalty for me if I come to the shelter and say I don’t want to go through coordinated entry, I just want a bed?” inquired Joseph. “Will I be turned away?”

“You don’t get turned away,” said Firnhaber. “But you will be told if you want to stay additional nights you need to go through coordinated entry the next day.”

The City, working with the Shelter, has made significant progress in the past few years securing long-term housing for individuals with ties to the community. But with fewer beds available this winter and an admittance curfew of 7 p.m. at the Boulder Shelter, councilmembers were told there may be occasions when it’s necessary to conduct a lottery for available beds. Councilmember Adam Swetlik was disappointed with that news.

“To have a lottery system it feels very “Hunger-gamesy” to me that you’re choosing who gets to survive any given night,” said Swetlik. “It’s crazy to me that we have to live in a world like that and I hope that our state and national government will step up at some point so we can address these problems at their core.”

Mayor Sam Weaver pushed back on the observation.

“The approach we have today is much more sophisticated and layered than it was when I got on council in 2013,” countered Weaver. “At that time pretty much everything was done by lottery, so this is a very, very different plan.”

Opening of the severe weather shelter is triggered based on the temperature and weather conditions. The city defines critical conditions based on a National Weather Service forecast of 10 degrees or lower or six inches or more of snow. The Boulder Shelter is closed for several hours each day for cleaning, and councilmember Rachel Friend pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic has closed the libraries.

“The reality is we have had de facto day shelters at the libraries, so I think this year is a step down as far as day services,” said Friend. “With the libraries closed or with limited services, people won’t have a place to go.”

City Council asked to receive regular updates on the success of the program.