The Unhomed

The issues facing our community are the inflow of homeless individuals outmatching our many existing resources, high utilization rates, and a shortage of treatment options for mental health and substance abuse from a county and state level. 

There are many factors that contribute to homelessness. These include lack of housing, income inequity, substance abuse and mental health issues. Boulder has worked diligently to create successful paths to exit homelessness for those with the desire to transition into stable housing. The majority of the unhoused in Boulder are using coordinated entry and actively trying to exit homelessness. The city currently has roughly 1400 affordable housing units in the works. I am committed to working to increase affordable housing and streamlining city processes to allow for more affordable housing opportunities. 

Let’s address Boulder’s current services. A few of the many services the City of Boulder offers are: The Dept of Housing and Human Services, The Boulder Homeless Shelter, CIRT, EFFA, SAMPS (Safe and managed public spaces) Urban Park Rangers, Downtown ambassadors, BTHERE outreach, Diversion and Reunification Services, and HOT. Additional prevention activities and wrap-around services include: Building Home/Peer Support Program, Mediation ServicesEviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Services (EPRAS); Food Tax Rebate ProgramKeep Families HousedHuman Services FundCommunity Development Block Grant and Health Equity Fund which grants funding to nonprofits. These services plus more have a total budget impact of over $40 million dollars. This does not take into account the many community organizations that are also addressing homelessness including, Mental Health Partners, SPAN, Bridge House, Harvest of Hope, and many more. Here is a current resource guide Community Resource Guide.

In addition to the above, Boulder’s current City Council has approved a day shelter. The goal of the Homelessness Day Services Center is to provide an environment that fosters inclusivity and warmth, allowing individuals experiencing homelessness to connect with service providers conveniently at a centralized location.

The solution we need to focus on now is how to reduce the high utilizer portion of the unhoused population.  Encampments are not a compassionate solution. There is no sobriety on the creek. No one should be living on the street. 

The unhoused are a very vulnerable part of our community.  Unfortunately, we have situations where the current encampments are the cause for micro crime hot spots which show 30% of crime is occurring in 10% of the city. A good portion of the more serious misdemeanors are happening to the unhoused from the unhoused. We have an obligation to help those in need. We also have an obligation to provide our community the ability to enjoy the city and feel safe, and too often that is not the reality they are experiencing. A small portion of the homeless population makes a negative impact on our community by way of overrunning public spaces and transportation, theft, trash, creek pollution, property destruction, and ongoing safety issues for city workers.

We need to continue outreach to the people in the encampments to get them involved with coordinated entry and the services that are offered in our city.  We have to enforce the camping ban laws and continue to utilize law enforcement to help with this on-going issue. The average life expectancy of the homeless is 42-52 years old. It is a clear fact that the homeless experience a disproportionate level of violence. The compassionate solution to homelessness is to prevent the encampments in Boulder and require the unhoused population to participate in the many services that we offer. 

I am open to exploring the possibility for tiny homes or micro communities where we could move groups of people into tier 1 housing.  The unhoused have communities just like you and I. If we can work with the encampments in that light, I think that the level of success would be much greater than trying to move people into individual housing and removing them from their existing personal support structure. These options should be funded by the County using the extension of the Alternative Sentencing Facility Tax that will be on the ballot next year. 

Public safety is the function of the City, and health is the function of the County.  The high utilizer population has proven that the encampment crisis is, at its root, a health issue. To further supplement our current services, we need to push the County for the following:

  • Prioritize the expansion of mental health and substance abuse programs.
  • Provide additional mental health teams through sections of the city for better engagement and de-escalation with the ability to steer the high utilizer portion of the unhoused population to treatment and services. 
  • Create sober supportive transitional housing facilities with on-site services such as mental health counseling, addiction treatment, and job training to help people maintain stable housing and sobriety. This gives people the chance to acclimate to being inside and provide opportunities for recovery. 
  • Build more permanent supportive housing. In cases where needed, this should combine housing with support services.

As the urgency to address the encampments increases, it is crucial for the state and the county to actively bolster Boulder's existing initiatives by providing robust support and supplementing our efforts. We need work within the existing infrastructure that the city has worked so diligently and compassionately to implement and coordinate further with the county for treatment options. We cannot solve this problem alone.