Emergency shelters for the homeless are human warehouses

A LITTLE MORE ACCOUNTABILITY, A LITTLE LESS ENABLING

By Max R. Weller

I’m referring specifically to Boulder Shelter for the Homeless and the various sites operated by Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow. Somewhere in America, there surely is a place for street people to stay overnight in decent conditions — clean surroundings with peace and quiet prevailing, and staffed by those who can recognize the bad actors who make life miserable for other homeless men and women — but that place is NOT to be found in Boulder, CO.

BSH intake area

Does this look to you like a dignified way to bring those in need out of the cold? BTW, you have to play the lottery to get a bunk; if you’re unlucky and draw a high number, you’ll be turned away. In that case, you could wind up here:

One of the BOHO emergency warming centers (location withheld by me)

What the tarps spread all over the floor indicate to me is that this this particular church thinks that ALL homeless people they host are filthy and vermin-infested, and can be expected to vomit everywhere except into a toilet. Maybe the other churches and a synagogue also do this, I don’t know; NEVER have I cared to stay overnight at BOHO after hearing the stories from those who have.

I’ll add that I haven’t stayed overnight at BSH since April 30, 2010. I’ve had my fill of being crammed together with too many others in a confined space (you can imagine the smells and noises throughout the night for yourself), and I’m very grateful to have learned how to survive outdoors in wintertime AND to have made friends who will take me into their home when necessary.

I can tell you from firsthand experience of homeless shelters and jails/prisons: Conditions in the typical homeless shelter intended for emergency overnight use are far worse than can be found in any jail or prison! The federal Department of Justice doesn’t hesitate to crack down on jails and prisons which dehumanize inmates — but NOBODY is looking out for the welfare, both physical and psychological, of street people in desperate straits who wind up in substandard facilities.

Yes, yes, I can hear you . . . You’re asking for a better alternative than the current system. Fair enough:

Proposed Tiny House Village in Portland, OR

These single occupancy housing solutions for homeless adults are popping up all over the country in more progressive cities, while Boulder lags behind with the old, discredited model of projects costing many millions of dollars. Consider that a tiny house offers privacy, security, and the opportunity for restful sleep overnight . . . OM Build in Madison, WI can turn out a tiny house for $5,000. Contrast that with the $200,000+ Housing First apartments at 1175 Lee Hill, being touted as permanent supportive housing. Keeping those dollar figures in mind, which do you think is better — one apartment for a program client or forty (40) tiny houses for single men and women who need shelter from the elements?

It should be a no-brainer to pick the best option.

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