It seems to this observer of Boulder’s homeless community that everyone in authority here is talking past the biggest issue affecting shelter space and services — the influx of homeless people from Denver and elsewhere. These folks are welcomed on a first-come, first-serve basis (just as Boulder’s own homeless residents) which creates a special hardship during the winter season when weather conditions can be a threat to life and limb. More homeless people are here than can be sheltered or adequately served at times; I understand this situation served as the motivation to create a new organization, Boulder Outreach to the Homeless Overflow, but it’s also been an ongoing concern for Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Carriage House/Community Table, and the churches participating in the Emergency Warming Center coalition. Obviously, it presents a problem to Boulder Police and the community as a whole.
I see no good reason not to give priority to Boulder’s homeless people over those coming from Denver or elsewhere. Certainly, Denver has more than enough shelter space to serve everyone in need there — but many choose to come to Boulder because our facilities are newer and better. When space is available, this isn’t a problem; but when Boulder Shelter capacity of 160 persons is exceeded, as happens many times during the winter season, it’s unreasonable and unnecessary to put Boulder’s homeless out in favor of Denver visitors. Perhaps BOHO and the church coalition could work on obtaining a bus to provide transportation back to Denver shelters whenever an overflow occurs, rather than seeking more emergency shelter space here in Boulder which will only attract still more homeless visitors.
Were this common sense prioritization to be made, of course, Boulder Shelter and the other organizations would need to begin requiring valid ID from clients in order to prove Boulder residency. Currently, you can show up and declare yourself to be Joe Blow or Jane Blow with no questions being asked (although they do request that one use the same alias every night to help keep records straight). This is not the case in many other cities. I once worked at an overnight emergency shelter in Kansas City, MO and we had complete paperwork on every client — which could not be shared with anyone outside the shelter staff per privacy laws. When the police showed up looking for someone, we simply told them we were prohibited from confirming whether (or not) that individual was present. More than once I told KCPD officers that it was “lights out” in the dorm and I didn’t want them disturbing anyone; they left without any argument. In the case of a search warrant, we still wouldn’t confirm whether the wanted suspect was present but did allow the police to look for themselves.
Especially in these times when things are so tough for all nonprofits, it makes sense to serve local homeless people first. And frankly, when Denver authorities send their homeless up here to Boulder as they did during the Democratic National Convention last summer, Boulder authorities should send them right back.
Max R. Weller