Better Boulder advocates for fair and equitable housing policies for Boulder’s residents and sustainable development that supports a vibrant economy and welcoming atmosphere for residents and visitors alike.
However, the growing issue of homelessness is challenging the community and our community leaders. These challenges have created deep divisions in our community about the best methods to solve these problems. The issues created by homelessness and encampments are key issues in elections around the country and will be so in our upcoming elections. Electing leaders that will take on this issue with clear eyes, thoughtfulness, leadership, and compassion is key.
Below we offer our carefully considered thoughts regarding both immediate and long-term strategies to keep Boulder a vibrant, welcoming, and thriving city. Before we state our solutions, we want to acknowledge our principles:
- This is not Boulder’s problem alone and we will not solve it alone. Collaboration with the county, surrounding municipalities, and the state will be essential.
- Mental illness and addiction are medical conditions, not moral failures or crimes. Similarly, being
homeless or poor is not a crime.
- Expertise matters: The agencies and non-profit organizations that currently provide services to the homeless have the greatest relevant expertise. Their voices, and the voices of those who have been or are currently homeless, should be central in the development of any approach to homelessness.
- Solutions must be fairly and objectively evaluated. Let’s use data to make decisions and not succumb to simple reactions that may make us feel good but don’t make progress. Safety for all residents must be our priority.
- Use taxpayer money smartly. Prevention is often far lower cost than treating chronic addiction and homelessness. Services that provide immediate assistance to help prevent struggling individuals and families from entering homelessness in the first place should be a priority for additional funding and support.
- Address problems directly. If the problem is public defecation, increase the number of public restrooms available. If trash is the problem, provide and service trash receptacles.
Solutions and policies we agree upon:
- We support the “Housing First” policy. The data shows that solving addiction, poverty, and health issues is next to impossible while people are on the street. Now is not the time to abandon this model.
- Our restrictive land use codes have contributed to our homeless situation. Occupancy limits, the inability to build even moderate density in our existing neighborhoods, and other barriers are contributors to our affordability crisis and continue to drive those on the edge out of housing and closer to homelessness.
Encampments are not safe nor healthy for campers who inhabit them, in particular vulnerable individuals experiencing mental health challenges, single women, and people with drug addictions who are surrounded by other users reinforcing dependency issues. Encampments are a major public health and safety risk to the community because of the risk of catastrophic fire, hazardous waste, violence, and contamination of our major watersheds. They are a continued detriment to local businesses and tourism and a danger to cyclists and pedestrians on paths. Yet, an encampment may be the only viable option for the camper should they be part of a couple, have a pet, or have legitimate concerns about sleeping in a structured group environment.
Our current method of encampment removal is simply an ineffective and expensive way of shuffling people around that does not provide a housing solution. To address this, we support:
- Safe monitored sanctioned camping as an alternative to dispersed illegal encampments. We suggest a pilot program of 50–100 tents, on land owned by the City or County, accessible by existing transit or special shuttles, including to and from day shelters. Ideally, there should be a building or trailer with bathrooms, showers, and laundry. On-site monitors should include liaison employees from the homeless community who are charged with rule enforcement and contact with police and social workers when needed.
- Safe parking program to include services similar to above.
- Tiny Houses as part of an expansion of a safe camping program. These have proven to be effective in other communities.
- Day Sheltering is a key to directing people to services and mitigating impacts on the general community. We support the city’s proposed site location.
- Path Safety is a priority, we support the current city policy of immediately clearing multi-use paths and underpasses to facilitate safe, unobstructed travel for bicyclists and pedestrians
Upon providing alternatives to unsanctioned camping, we should explore how to quickly remove existing camps and prevent camps from being established – all within existing constitutional limits and state law.
Mental Health and Addiction Services
- Transitional and sober living facilities need more funding and support. Exiting homelessness and addiction is hard and we must give folks the tools they need to be successful.
- Additional mental health and addiction services are needed for the success of any program.
Continue advocacy and coordination with the county and state.
- Harm reduction is proven to save lives. Let’s move beyond the myths and implement harm reduction strategies.
Connection to Services
- “Coordinated Entry” should continue with modifications to allow connections to be made at the day shelter and at sanctioned camping sites and to engage with additional service providers that are currently not participating in the program.
- Remove barriers that prevent non-profits and the faith community from providing services. These organizations can provide services that help our city and county meet our goals. Their efforts to meet human needs and build trust with homeless people can lead to more people exiting homelessness.
In summary, we support housing for our homeless population, needed mental health and substance abuse treatment options, fairly enforced consequences for criminal activity, viable alternatives to encampments, and new pathways out of homelessness.