Boulderites Clash Over Talks About Creating Day Shelter
By Alexis Kenyon
September 15, 2022
0:00 / 7:22
Alexis Kenyon00:00

A proposal to open a daytime shelter for unhoused individuals in Boulder has provoked debate in recent weeks. At a meeting last month to get community input about where a potential daytime shelter could be and what services it could offer, moderators struggled to keep people in line

Moderator00:19

` Shari?

Shari00:20

Can you hear me? We can hear you. Okay, great. So, talking about the building, I tell you what, one of my big, biggest concerns is how are you gonna prevent or will you prevent drug use inside the building and who's gonna pay for that? Other ,other day shelters, like the the San Francisco Linkage Center is a low- barrier resource center, which sounds a lot like this Boulder day shelter outline, but it's become a fenced-off, city- sanctioned drug market. So, I think the money would be better spent on in-patient psychiatric treatment.

Moderator00:54

Thanks, Shari.

Shari00:55

Don't know why that's so funny.

Moderator00:57

Just a reminder, the set of questions is around the facility and what kind of affinities it would have in the community.

Shari01:02

Okay. So this is a done deal or is there gonna be a public hearing on this?

Moderator01:08

We're doing community outreach right now and then, so this is just a discussion around the services and the type of facility.

Shari01:14

Right. Thank you.

danica01:15

Thank you.

Alexis Kenyon01:16

The city is conducting these discussions because as anyone who has been downtown recently has probably noticed unhoused people in public spaces have prompted complaints about trash problems along the creek, sheltering in the

public library, and the use of drugs in city parks. At last month's meeting Schuyler, a mother of three, says she's afraid to go downtown by herself.

Schulyer01:38

I would say that currently our downtown areas are extremely unsafe . I. have not been to the Bandshell since I moved here two years ago. I will not go to the Farmer's Market by myself. I don't go to the library playground anymore. I do not go to the creek anymore because I am fearful of my and my children's safety.

Alexis Kenyon02:02

As uncomfortable as many people feel about homelessness and Boulder. it's not going away. Shay Castle of Boulder Beat News recently published an investigative series on homelessness in Boulder.

Shay Castle02:16

The reason Boulder has so much homelessness is because our housing is so expensive. That's a one correlation that we found to be true. The highest correlation with homelessness is housing costs.

Alexis Kenyon02:27

According to a Zillow report, housing prices in Boulder have gone up nearly 20% in the last year. Rent for a single bedroom apartment averages around $1800. In Boulder, more than half of renters are rent-burdened, meaning more than a third of their income goes to rent. Boulder is the seventh, most expensive real estate market in the United States says Castle.

Shay Castle02:52

I don't know if people know that but like it's, it's San Francisco, it's San Jose it's Honolulu, so like five places in California, and then Boulder. That, that's it. That's the top most expensive, more expensive than New York, New Jersey, like we are up there. And so it makes sense that we would have a lot of unhoused people here, cuz that's the number one correlating factor.

Alexis Kenyon03:13

Aside from sky-high housing prices, the other big reason people are seeing so many unhoused people in downtown Boulder comes back to a decision the City Council made in 2017.

Up until then Boulder, like most cities in the nation tackled homeless, mostly through a church-run daytime and nighttime sheltering system. Despite efforts to aggressively push people towards sobriety and mental health services, the sheltering systems reforms were rarely enough to lift people out of homelessness.

In 2017, Boulder decided it was time to try something new. a new model called Housing First was gaining in popularity across the country. This model shifted the focus from reform to housing.

After the City Council voted to adopt the model, they closed daytime shelters and began aggressively moving people towards housing says Shay Castle.

Shay Castle04:10

It, it, it's kind of one of those swing of the pendulum things. Now what we've done is like, okay, we'll aggressively move them toward housing but they have no place to be. You have to do both. You gotta do both. And it's really tough because we do have limited resources and we're not getting the investment we need from the state or the Feds. So I understand that. It's just like, it's not one or the other. It's both.

Alexis Kenyon04:30

Despite some of the very outward facing drawbacks to closing daytime shelters, in most every other regard, the Housing First model has been a huge success for Boulder. In the past five years, the program has moved about 350 people a year out of homelessness. Kurt Firnhaber, the director of 'Boulders Housing and Human Services says, if you just look at the numbers, and not out your window, you'd think the city would have no problem keeping up.

Amazing until you start looking at the numbers of people entering homelessness in Boulder. Over the last four years, close to 8,000 people have become homeless in Boulder. Shay Castle says, at this rate, something has to give.

Shay Castle05:13

I understand why this is, you know, unpalatable to people, but like we've given them no options. We've given people no options. There's no shelter for them to be during the day. They can be in the libraries, but people complain about that. And during the pandemic, there were no libraries. They can be in the parks and stuff but people complain about that. Where do you want people to go? They literally have no option. They have to go somewhere.

And then, I would also, again, point to what other places are doing that are having success and they all have a day shelter or day center, low-barrier, somewhere for people to be legally during the day, and they all somehow manage to, to keep people from smoking meth there, so, this is not an unheard of thing.

At the meeting to gather feedback about the possible creation of a daytime homeless shelter in Boulder, in addition to worries about a low barrier shelter creating a drug market, many pleaded with the City Council to act. Michelle Rodriguez, one of the 1600 participants of the city's housing first program, who is now in housing told the group that the shelter cannot wait.

Michele Rodriguez06:19

We are desperately overdue for this day center. It needs to be now. This is not really something we can talk about and just think that it's two years in the future. Every year, about three weeks before the 21st, which is our annual Homeless Memorial Day, we have to follow a Colorado Open Records Act to get the list of names of the homeless people that didn't make it through the year for whatever reason...

Moderator06:47

Michele, Michele...

Alexis Kenyon06:50

Despite pleas for urgency coming from both sides, like the moderators of last month's discussion, Boulder City Council remains committed to keeping the conversation going for at least two years.

In the meantime, Boulder has proposed 2023 budget expands police funding to continue clearing and ticketing, homeless encampments in Boulder. For KGNU, I'm Alexis Kenyon.