Boulder city staff are committed to reducing the number of beds available at shelter services, and they are not going to let a little thing like a forthcoming wave of evictions resulting from the COVID-19 Pandemic affect their decisions. To back their play, Housing and Human Services (HHS) staff produced a report that one member of the Housing Advisory Board (HAB) stated should, respectfully, be thrown in the trash.
But there is little to respect about staff presenting flawed data. Boulder’s HAB met jointly with the Human Relations Commission (HRC) to review the HHS report and pointed to bias in it. A Doctor of Anthropology from Seattle was so frustrated upon seeing the report that he quickly responded with roughly 40 comments pointing to flaws in HHS’s data and conclusions.
HAB and HRC, both tasked in Boulder’s Municipal Code with making recommendations to City Council to advise on long and short term priorities, did exactly that after reviewing the report, sending a list of recommendations that included piloting sanctioned camps, safe parking spaces, and tiny home villages. They recommended creating an oversight committee to set homeless policy made up of at least 50% people who have lived experience of homelessness.They recommended working with the faith community to create more shelter space, as has been done successfully in the past.
This review and the recommendations made were done just ahead of City Council’s study session on homelessness that took place on July 14, 2020. HHS staff, likely smarting from the strong and warranted critique of their report, failed to include the HAB/HRC recommendations in the agenda packet Council received, thus undermining the very purpose of the two groups, as defined in the City’s laws.
HHS then carried on weaponizing the truism that “housing cures homelessness,” asserting basically that any money spent on increasing shelter beds—beds their policies have reduced by nearly 70% since 2017—takes away from funds that could go to housing, and therefore replacing service beds should not be done. A majority of Council approved this. This, while it’s been reported that in this era of shrinking budgets, the police will get a bomb truck and electronics to assist them in issuing tickets, to the tune of half a million dollars.
Recent research predicts roughly 450,000 Coloradans will soon face eviction, and Boulder will surely see a portion of those. Many will become homeless. Yet HHS staff and Council decided that less beds in the safety net are a good idea.
Come fall, when the snow is flying and a flood of newly homeless community members are left out in the cold, the willful negligence of HHS, and the Council who listened to their advice, will be plainly evident
Darren O’Connor is an attorney in Boulder practicing in the areas of eviction defense, family law, criminal defense, and civil rights. He can be reached at DOLawLLC@gmail.com