When I saw this story on the front page of our local newspaper — which generally is SOFT on the worst-behaved transients who drift into Boulder, CO from all across America — I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming! Here it is, copied below in its entirety (but not being posted by me on either Facebook or Twitter):
By Alex Burness
Trash from transients is pictured next to the Boulder Creek on Monday in Boulder. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)
When you gotta go, you gotta go.
But some in the city’s homeless community are asking, “Where?”
After businesses and public facilities close, the unhoused and unsheltered who sleep in hidden spots along Boulder Creek are opting in certain cases to relieve themselves outdoors, to the chagrin of public officials and many visitors to the area.
Yvette Bowden, director of Boulder Parks and Recreation, said last week in response to complaints about the human waste visible along the creek path and particularly common at and east of the Civic Area, “I’m not here to make excuses. We are, like all of you, dealing with the impacts of conditions that we wish were not so.”
The conditions — feces and used toilet paper, in addition to heaps of litter and homeless property — are not only off-putting, but have prompted concerns about sanitation in one of the city’s premier spots for outdoor recreation.
“I’m very sympathetic to the situation with the unhoused community, and I don’t want to demonize them,” said Alli Fronzaglia, the founder of the popular club Boulder Hiker Chicks and, more recently, leader of a new advocacy group called Friends of Boulder Creek. “I understand there are many factors involved in why they’re there, but we just can’t have people living without facilities along waterways.”
In early fall, the City Council directed police to begin re-enforcing the urban camping ban, after a roughly five-month unofficial moratorium. Since then, records show, cops have issued 47 citations for violation of the ban.
Even in winter, though, dozens and sometimes hundreds of homeless people still find places to sleep outdoors in Boulder, and the woods and underpasses along the creek path on the fringe of downtown remain popular options.
Cleo Rashedo, a homeless man who arrived in Boulder three months ago and camps most nights, says the fears some have about where and how often some use the creek banks as bathrooms are reasonable.
“It’s true,” Rashedo said. “I’ve done it. I’ve just gotten some toilet paper and gone in the woods where no one’s around. … I’ve done it 80 times, probably.”
He said he doesn’t feel bad about it.
“Where else? You can’t get to the bathroom, you’re homeless, you got alcohol in your body. There’s nowhere to go,” Rashedo added.
After dark, there are still some portable toilets available, and there are public bathrooms in Eben G. Fine Park and on the Pearl Street Mall. Most homeless campers interviewed Monday said they either make the effort to defecate in one of those spots or to wait until the morning.
“I’d say 95 percent of us don’t do that,” said a homeless man who identified himself only as John. “I think the townspeople make a bigger deal out of it because they don’t like the homeless. They’re just using this as an excuse to (complain) about us.”
The Friends of Boulder Creek group insists that’s not its mission, and has opened dialogue with homeless advocates that neither side describes as adversarial.
Fronzaglia said she and her colleagues just want to see the creek cleaned up. She’s been walking the path almost every day for years, but said it wasn’t until November that she began to notice the human waste that’s now easily viewable to anyone with the stomach for a search.
Toilet paper is pictured next to the Boulder Creek on Monday in Boulder. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)
“I saw all this toilet paper hanging from branches and from the ground,” she said. “I started looking at the ground that I was standing on and I had this horrible realization that I was actually standing where multiple people had been defecating and urinating.
“It was very close to the water and very close to where they were sitting and lying down,” she continued. “There was so much feces — some human and some dog. But there was a lot of it.”
When Bowden commented last week on the issue, during a brief presentation to the City Council, she noted that her department has to maintain nearly 1,500 acres of urban park space, with a staff of about 150.
That roster is not sufficient to address the problems of waste — bodily and otherwise — along the creek, said Denise White, spokeswoman for Parks and Recreation.
White said that staff does waste removal and vandalism mitigation along the creek from Eben G. Fine Park to 55th Street every day, but has recently had to hire a contractor to come do extra cleanings once a week.
It’s not unusual for the department to make use of additional, paid help, but those contracts typically aren’t extended beyond the end of summer, when activity tends to die down outdoors.
This season, White said, “we have seen the need to continue those outside contracted services.”
“We completely understand the community’s expectations for safety, cleanliness and sustainability of our public spaces,” she added. “We’re paying attention.”
The waste that peppers the creekside is, for now, mostly harmless. But water quality experts say the trend could become considerably more worrisome once the weather warms and people resume swimming and tubing in the creek.
“Human waste has bacteria and pathogens,” explained Erin Dodge, Boulder County Public Health’s water quality program coordinator. “When improperly managed it can pollute surface water and potentially impact human health from those recreating in the water.”
When this exposure prompts health problems, it’s usually in the form of gastrointestinal illness, she said. Children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable.
“We are aware there are some safety concerns as well as health concerns,” White said. “We try to stay on top of that as much as we can.”
It’s a problem Boulder would like to end, for obvious reasons, but particularly given the fact that the city has embarked on a massive renovation project of the Civic Area, to which the creek is a primary draw.
By April, the city expects to have a new, as-yet-unknown plan in place to change the way it services the large local homeless population.
Evan Ravitz, a longtime advocate for the Boulder homeless, said that even with a camping ban, the city can expect some of its current challenges to persist.
“You can’t treat the symptom,” he said. “It’s not just feces. There are people and dogs that make that feces who have no home. You have to at least give them a place to camp, if not a tiny home, if not an apartment.
“Boulder’s spent 50 years trying to chase them away, and you can see how effective it’s been.”
Evan Ravitz has it ASS-BACKWARD: Boulder’s do-gooders have spent 50 years trying to attract bums from everywhere, and they have been spectacularly successful in creating this shitty situation. Shame, shame on every one of the self-styled homeless advocates!
(This blog post will be e-mailed to Boulder City Council.)