‘Makeshift emergency homeless shelter possible at East Boulder Community Center’

Read the story from the Daily Camera here. Copied below in its entirety:

Edward Mahan, who is homeless, takes a nap on a bench near the Boulder bandshell on Wednesday.

Edward Mahan, who is homeless, takes a nap on a bench near the Boulder bandshell on Wednesday. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)

Among the service changes to which the local homeless must adjust this week is the closure of the emergency, bad-weather warming center and overnight shelter that had been operated by the organization Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow, prior to its suspension of programming on Monday.

The provider, better known as BOHO, opened its doors every night of the year between Nov. 15 and March 15, but hosted the homeless on “offseason” nights when the weather was cold or wet enough to trigger concern about the basic safety of those who’d have otherwise been sleeping outdoors.

That service will now be provided by the city, Human Services Director Karen Rahn said Wednesday.

“We kind of have a gap between May 1 and October” — when the north Boulder homeless shelter opens to walk-ups — “where if there are some days where bad weather happens, we would want to have a plan in place to be able to have sheltering for extreme weather,” Rahn said in an interview that followed brief comments to the City Council on Tuesday night.

The announcement that city staff and funds will help fill the BOHO gap was welcome news to the homeless and their advocates, but many details of Boulder’s plan remain unclear.

For one, the criteria under which the city would open the emergency shelter is undefined. Rahn said Boulder plans to make judgment calls in deciding whether or not to open.

Temperatures Tuesday and Wednesday nights hovered around 40 degrees, and some light rain fell on the city. But neither was enough to trigger action by the city.

BOHO had explicit triggers: They’d check national weather forecasts every day at 5:30 a.m., then open up if and when the temperatures slipped below 38 degrees and there was at least a 30 percent chance of precipitation. They’d also open anytime the temperature was below freezing.

The location of Boulder’s BOHO substitute is also not certain. Rahn told the council on Tuesday that “we would be doing that at the East Boulder Community Center,” but said on Wednesday that that facility, at 5660 Sioux Drive, would in fact “be one location that we could use, but there’s other options we’re exploring.

“I can’t say what those options would be, because we don’t know for sure that we’d have commitments from other locations to provide emergency overnight sheltering,” she added.

Were the city to make use of the community center, the homeless there would sleep in the “ballroom” of the facility, Rahn said. The center is on the outskirts of the city and not particularly close to many services or main roads, but homeless clients would be asked to take public transportation to the site.

“Transit is, at best, poor to the rec center,” Councilwoman Mary Young said Tuesday, commenting on the city’s plan.

Officials interviewed Wednesday also did not specify how much Boulder would be prepared to devote — both in terms of staff time and costs — to a city-run offseason emergency shelter. However, they said such numbers would be available soon.

Decisions about how and where the city manages this makeshift program will have wide-reaching effects; roughly 80 people would sleep in BOHO emergency beds on average nights, said Bill Sweeney, the organization’s director.

“I’m concerned for people who may very well suffer from exposure to the elements when that may not have been a necessary suffering,” Sweeney said by phone Wednesday.

Several council members were more concerned with the fact that this project is now in the hands of the city, and not the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless on north Broadway.

That building has a total of 160 beds, and at least 40 of them are slated to be open every day from now through October.

“I think the community kind of expects that it’s an emergency shelter and that people would, in adverse conditions even outside of the May 1 deadline, be able to seek shelter there,” Councilwoman Lisa Morzel said. “I hope … that they would have some compassion.”

Asked why his shelter won’t be a part of filling the gap left by BOHO’s closure, Director Greg Harms offered one dominant reason: The shelter’s 2002 management plan states that no walk-up services will be provided during the offseason.

“There are a couple of exceptions for us to stay open during the day when the weather’s really, really bad, but our agreement with the neighbors pretty clearly states when we can do emergency kinds of (overnight) services, and that ends on April 30.”

Council members Andrew Shoemaker and Bob Yates, both attorneys, criticized that 2002 plan as being “poorly written” and “vague,” and each suggested that the city might do well to attempt to renegotiate, or somehow rework, the detail that seems to preclude offseason nighttime sheltering even in cases of life-threatening weather.

Yates said he thinks that the city has “a pretty good position,” legally speaking, from which to challenge that policy.

The council will meet May 16 to discuss broad changes to the city’s approach to solving homelessness.

Many in the community, including some council members, have questioned the decision not to kick off that conversation prior to Monday, when day sheltering, emergency warming centers and other programs were cut off.

“I have to express concern about the timing here,” Councilman Aaron Brockett said. “We’re dealing with this as a council in a couple of weeks and we haven’t had a chance to hear about the new proposals in detail.

“It seems like there’s a lot changing before the council and the community have had a chance to weigh in on whether we’re moving in the right direction.”

Rahn said she feels the city is being “proactive about making sure we still have the basic safety net of services available,” but she conceded Wednesday that “the timing was awkward — no doubt about it.” 

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NO, NO, NO! Why in hell is there any need for an off-season (outside of the October 1st to April 30th “season” as defined by policy at current shelter / services providers) emergency homeless shelter, anyway? I’ve lived here continuously since early 2008, and the one and only life-threatening weather event in my experience was the Great Colorado Flood of September, 2013 — which has been labeled as a 1,000-year rain and 100-year flood. BTW, I did retreat from my north Boulder neighborhood to my friends home in Longmont for the duration; to my certain knowledge, not a single homeless person drowned, although dozens of them ripped off the Red Cross and FEMA for both replacement camping gear (whether they actually lost anything or not) and financial compensation of as much as $2,000 (pretty ritzy homeless campsites to be worth that much):

Another thing that peeves me about this article is the quote from Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow director Bill Sweeney. It’s a failed organization, and Mr. Sweeney is one of those responsible for the train wreck that is (or should I say was?) BOHO. STFU, Bill . . .

Greg Harms, naturally, makes another disingenuous statement — but you can bet the rent that nobody at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless gave a clear indication to neighbors that registered rapists and pedophiles would be in residence at that 4869 N. Broadway facility when it was proposed.

As to Edward Mahan, pictured at top, what he really needs are a swift kick in the rear end and a ticket on the RTD bus to Denver . . .

I’ll NOT be staying at any city-operated emergency shelter, either. And if I can get along without one — with help from Real World friends — why can’t these BUMS manage to do likewise?

Stop enabling the Transient Pansies! It’s the biggest reason they continue to hang around in Boulder, CO.

— MRW

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