Greg Harms, executive director at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, loves his job. Why wouldn’t he? The man overseas an operation that helps the less-fortunate members of our community, and in the process makes a difference to many lives every single day.G
Make no mistake–homelessness and poverty is a genuine problem in Boulder and Boulder County. The issue might not be as in-your-face as it is in a city like, say, Detroit, but it is there and it needs to be addressed. That’s where the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless (among other organizations) comes in.
“It’s a real problem,” Harms says. “Homelessness can be a result of a variety of things, from mental health and addiction to the high cost of living here, and the cost of healthcare. I recently read that more than half of bankruptcies are the result of the high cost of healthcare.”
The shelter serves homeless adults, age 18+. Importantly, they don’t just usher people in during the evenings and then shepherd them out at night–the shelter offers transitional help to get currently-homeless people back on their feet, plus access to mental health professionals and addiction councilors. It’s an admirable route – rather than only concentrating on the short-term problem of providing food and shelter (something that obviously isn’t ignored), they aim towards regaining independent housing for people who are drug and alcohol-free, have sustainable income, and a clear budget and savings plan. The shelter wants to break the cycle of poverty.
“On a basic level, we offer overnight shelter and food,” Harms says. “During our winter program, we shelter as many people as it’s possible to fit in. During the summer months, we have a Clean and Sober program, where we offer transitional help to try to introduce stability into the lives of those that need it.”
The Winter Sheltering program, they say, “furnishes hot meals and a warm, safe place to spend the night for those who have no other options during the months of October through April. Additionally, the Shelter is open each morning year-round to provide a hot breakfast, access to showers, and other limited services to those not staying overnight at the Shelter.”
The shelter can hold 160 people each night, and it’s often full during the winter. Sadly, it has to turn people away, though they do provide them with the details for BOHO (Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow), which provides basic shelter (a blanket in a church basement) for those in desperate need.
The majority of the food that the shelter is able to give out comes from Community Food Share, a local food bank. “About 90 percent comes from there,” Harms says. “The rest comes from donations from local restaurants, food brought by members of the community directly to our door, and then we purchase a few things as needed. Community Food Share’s sole purpose is to collect food and distribute it to organizations like ours. It’s done on a huge scale; they have a warehouse with semis rolling in and out every day.”
Of course, the paid staff at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless would be lost without the many volunteers who donate their time every day. “Our volunteers come from all over,” Harms says. “We get a lot from CU, and a lot from the Safe volunteers project. Some business groups volunteer, and service groups like the Rotary Club. We use around 1000 different people each year, and they really augment the work done by the paid staff. We really rely on them.”
If you would like to help, financial donations can be made at bouldershelter.org, and the website also has details of ways you can volunteer your time and/or food. There is also a wish list, which lists items like cosmetics that the shelter often needs. Every little thing helps.
If you need more persuading, Harms says that this is gratifying work. “I get to know that I come to work each day and make a difference for the least-fortunate people in our community,” he says. He’s absolutely right.