DONATING TO A NONPROFIT IS NOT THE SAME AS HELPING THE HOMELESS
By Max R. Weller
Read Fevered battle over plans to house Boulder’s young homeless in the Daily Camera. Excerpt copied below:
Nikki Degasperi, 23, left, shares a cigarette with Thomas Bloomer, 28, as they hang out near Boulder Creek earlier this month. Degasperi and Bloomer are both homeless in Boulder. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)
. . . Though Boulder hasn’t conducted a formal study to confirm it, a general feeling persists, particularly among cops, business owners and longtime residents, that since pot was legalized, the city has attracted a new brand of homeless person: younger and sometimes unhoused by choice; more prone to drug abuse and public disruptiveness; and less tenured in town, so therefore less invested, on average, in community vitality . . .
On one of downtown’s largest remaining surface parking lots, 1440 Pine St., at the southwest corner of 15th Street, Attention Homes plans to build a long-term housing complex for 40 homeless people between the ages of 18 and 24. The project is expected to go before the Boulder Planning Board for final approval later this year.
The plot is owned by First United Methodist Church, which has agreed to dedicate it to affordable housing in perpetuity, and will be developed by Gardner Capital Development, which specializes in low-income housing through tax-credit financing.
Attention Homes would move its own offices from an old house south of the lot into the first floor of the proposed building, and offer residents on-site case management, individual counseling, employment guidance and life skills development courses. Though there would be no sobriety requirement, substance-abuse support would be available.
Residents with jobs would give 30 percent of income for rent, but Attention Homes would arrange alternative plans, including free rent in some cases, for those without work . . .
A fulfillment of the $12.5 million project’s objective — providing a few years of supportive housing for people who want to stay in Boulder, but are struggling to make living wages, complete educations, address various traumas and learn to live alone — would afford dozens with a minimum but essential luxury, Nelson said: “being able to live in the community in which they already are.”
Continuing from the article:
And skepticism around who, precisely, will be served on Pine Street has been a constant in recent months.
Per an agreement, one quarter of the residents would be referred by Boulder County’s human services network, but federal funding sources prohibit local preference, so Attention Homes cannot guarantee what so many seem to want: a project that caters exclusively to the neediest young people who actually call the city home, and not to any 18-to-24-year-old who happens to pass through.
But, Attention Homes Executive Director Claire Clurman said, “these are people who are known to us.” And while 40 units may seem a lot, the residents will be staying long enough that anyone who isn’t tied to Boulder but comes here seeking a stay on Pine Street will likely be disappointed to find no vacancy.
Clurman is used to fielding questions about who the project would and would not help, but she’s also had to answer to some who question whether the organization is indeed fit to serve young adults in the first place, regardless of where they’re coming from.
That’s a fire largely ignited and stoked by Jan Hittelman, a former Attention Homes staffer who lives a block from 1440 Pine St., and who believes his onetime employer is now abandoning its identity.
The organization cut its teeth placing people 12 to 18 years old in small-scale home settings, and the single-family house Hittelman lives in now was, in fact, an Attention Homes program site for decades. He, like others, has called the proposal “institutional” and not homey, and isn’t confident in the staff’s ability to help an age range north of 18 in a large facility so close to the temptations of downtown.
“The truth is, and it’s something Attention Homes doesn’t want to talk about, but often nonprofits will chase funding to survive, and when that happens, you morph your mission. That’s what’s happening here,” Hittelman said.
“Frankly, I’m really uncomfortable with the position of having to speak against Attention Homes,” he adds. “But I feel like somebody has to speak up. They want to talk about the nobility of the project, but money is what’s driving this whole thing.”
Thank you, Jan Hittelman, for telling the unvarnished truth about this latest boondoggle from Boulder, CO’s homeless shelter / services industry (Housing First at 1175 Lee Hill and Ready to Work on Table Mesa are others). In all such cases, I define “boondoggle” as a proposal which is overpriced and at the same time FAILS to serve more than a small minority of those in need. You might also call it a scam.
One of the well-known homeless advocates in Boulder (who supports this proposed project) told me last night, “There are close to 200 homeless youth in Boulder.” And Attention Homes wants to spend $12.5M on apartments for just 40 of them — that’s $300,000 per unit.
This isn’t a post about the viability of Tiny Homes Communities as a more cost-efficient alternative, but the fact is that OM Build in Madison, WI (as one example of what is being done in truly progressive cities all over America) can turn out a Tiny Home for $5,000 and homeless people there are actively engaged in the process of building these communities from the drawing board onward.
“It’s my RIGHT to live in a $300,000 apartment in downtown Boulder!”
I have no doubt this Attention Homes project will be rammed through by any means necessary, and there was never any intention to consider the public’s thoughts on the matter, nor any intention to find a solution that would serve ALL of the estimated 200 youth on our streets.