Virtual Editorial Board: ‘Homelessness in Boulder’

By Max R. Weller

The Daily Camera’s Virtual Editorial Board is a regular weekly feature. This week’s question and my answer are copied below:

The Boulder City Council is examining the city’s spending on services for the homeless and will explore whether they believe the city is creating incentives for “transients,” describing them as different from locals who have fallen on hard times and need help. What, if anything, do you think city leaders should do about homelessness in Boulder?

1) Boulder’s nonprofits, specifically Boulder Shelter for the Homeless and Bridge House, must start requiring valid photo ID showing a Boulder County address from anyone wanting shelter/services. Transients can be given the $5 bus ticket on RTD to Denver, along with a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to go. A grace period of no longer than 30 days could be given for a homeless individual to obtain local ID; most “travelers” will simply move on down the road, instead. REGISTERED SEX OFFENDERS SHOULD NOT BE ACCEPTED AS CLIENTS.

2) The City of Boulder needs a lockdown detox facility, large enough to hold a few dozen inebriates at a time until they’re sober. Neither shelters nor jails are appropriate settings for highly intoxicated men and women.

3) The City, working together with nonprofits and faith-based groups, needs to build a “tiny house village” for single adults who are homeless. This could be done at a fraction of the $6 million being spent on a 31-unit Housing First apartment complex at 1175 Lee Hill. Here’s one example, but others are springing up all over America: http://www.jetsongreen.com/2010/05/tiny-house-eco…

4) The transients who commit petty offenses like illegal camping, trespassing, open container of alcohol, smoking where prohibited, etc. should be given the option of boarding the bus to Denver in lieu of a citation. The $5 fare to be picked up by Boulder taxpayers, and it would be far cheaper in the long run than clogging up the local justice system. This is an old-fashioned solution, and most of the troublemakers I’ve known really don’t want to be going to court or dodging a bench warrant for failure to appear; they’ll get on the bus, under the watchful eye of a police officer, and with the understanding that they only get one such break.

5) Start hiring homeless people with suitable work experience to staff local nonprofits, especially Boulder Shelter for the Homeless. A lot of us have worked for pay and/or volunteered at shelter/services providers in other cities; it’s time this became the practice in Boulder, CO.

6) Most of all, make our public venues like Central Park, Pearl Street Mall, and University Hill family-friendly once again — the 80% (my estimate) of the homeless who behave decently will appreciate it as much as anybody else.

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