‘Practical education absent in homeless program’

I’d submitted this commentary to the Daily Camera over a month ago, and assumed that it had been rejected for publication. Imagine my surprise to find it in this morning’s print edition, after my very short letter-to-the-editor appeared just a few days ago. In any case — it’s time for citizens to learn the truth about what really happens in Boulder Shelter’s much-touted Transition Program: NOTHING.

Copied below in its entirety:

As one who has chosen to be a firsthand observer of homelessness here in Boulder since early 2008 — even to the extent of sleeping outdoors in wintertime — I’ve often been amazed at how dysfunctional many homeless single adults are. They have difficulty with daily tasks that most of us take for granted, which we can do with very little conscious thought. Examples: 1) Reading a bus schedule and getting to the bus stop on time; 2) Shopping for food and other necessities on a limited budget; and 3) Understanding and dealing effectively with bureaucracy (or avoiding it altogether as I do, a skill in and of itself).

Unfortunately, the Transition Program at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless fails to educate homeless clients in any practical way. Many is the time I’ve been waiting outside for this facility to open at 6 a.m. in order to take my morning shower, and I see program residents running after the RTD buses as they’re pulling away; this is because the homeless people inside aren’t even required to wake themselves on time to start their days. It gets worse: You name the task, and chances are that some “case manager” or other BSH staff member is doing it for the resident, which only reinforces their dependency.

Residents are assigned very simple chores, which frequently don’t get done, and staff’s only concern is that the resident has signed off on having completed their chore (this is my pet peeve, because I have to clean the toilet seat I use every morning rather than take a chance on whether it was actually disinfected). When residents leave the building at 4869 N. Broadway at 8 a.m., at least a dozen will gather at the corner of Front Range Drive and N. Broadway — on BSH property — to smoke marijuana (supposedly not permitted for those who are required to be “clean and sober”).

There are residents in this “nine month” program who have been there for years (with only brief respites), and remain just as helpless and needy as ever. Really, what’s the point? Besides having a “program” to point to in hopes of gaining more funding from both public and private sources. But, maybe that is the point.

It’s time to refocus resources at the Boulder Shelter in a way that will actually offer a chance at real change in the lives of homeless single adults who seek it. It can be done; just search online for Denver Samaritan House 120-Day Levels Program Requirements.

In wintertime’s life-threatening weather conditions, of course, there will always be a need for emergency overnight shelter. That’s a different matter, entirely, and it’s not one that attracts a lot of support from do-gooders wanting the homeless to “get back on their feet” as the tired old saying goes. However, I regard it as the true test of so-called compassion — providing a minimal level of emergency care for those who probably won’t offer any thanks and aren’t interested in rejoining the mainstream of society.

Max R. Weller lives in Boulder. 

Addendum 7/10/2017: My homeless friend R. said to me this morning, as I visited Boulder Shelter for the Homeless for my daily ablutions with Ivory bar soap and lukewarm water from the high-tech boiler at this facility, “Well, everyone’s in an uproar over your article — but it’s true!”

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