Boulder slashing winter homeless sheltering budget by more than $100K

Shay Castle / Boulder Beat

Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020

Boulder will spend much less sheltering its unhoused residents this winter, with a plan that concentrates all services into one location, requires clients to go through the coordinated entry system after one night and provides no backup plan for people experiencing homelessness unless they are considered at risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

Consolidation has been the plan for awhile, but some council members — concerned over a 50% reduction in beds — have continued to push for alternatives. Staff contends that the success of a housing-first focus will create availability as more residents are placed into permanent homes. More than 60 residents have gained housing this year alone, through July.

Last year, Severe Weather Sheltering operated at 2691 30th Street, operated by nonprofit provider Bridge House. Navigation services were located there as well; Boulder Shelter for the Homeless absorbed that in May when the lease on 30th Street was up. (The former Robb’s Music space is set to be redeveloped into affordable housing.)

Now, Boulder Shelter will also house winter sheltering when it opens Oct. 1. Council will consider the plan at its Tuesday study session.

SWS beds, 30th Street: 72
Navigation beds, 30th Street: 50
Boulder Shelter beds, pre-pandemic: 160
Total system capacity, 2019-2020 season: 282

Current BSH beds: 120
Projected winter BSH beds: 140
Change in shelter beds: -142, -50.4%

Up to 20 hotel rooms are planned for overflow — but only for those deemed high-risk under COVID-19 due to age or pre-existing health conditions. An additional 20 beds will be available on “critical weather” nights where the weather drops below 10 degrees Fahrenheit or six-plus inches of snow is expected, but again, only to at-risk populations.

“Many clients have at least one of the qualifying factors,” according to housing and human services spokesperson Zach McGee. “We don’t anticipate having challenges in filling 40 beds with qualifying individuals,” he wrote via email, which will free up space at Boulder Shelter.

Additionally, continued screening will send those with symptoms to the COVID Recovery Center, which can accommodate up to 15 people. There is no overflow plan for those without symptoms or risk factors, he confirmed.

Operations costs drop 67%

The plan also reduces the budget for winter sheltering by more than $300,000, though most of that is related to the lease at 30th Street. Operations spending was decreased by more than $100,000, as the cost for hotel rooms will be reimbursed by FEMA.

SWS budget, 2019-2020: $387,000
$185,000 for Bridge House operations
$202,000 for 30th Street lease (which also housed navigation)

SWS budget, 2020-2021: $277,880
$40,680 for expansion staffing
$181,200 at-risk hotel rooms – reimbursable
$36,000 hotel expansion – reimbursable
$20,000 day services

SWS budget, 2020-2021, minus reimbursable costs: $60,680
Change from 2019-2020: -$326,320 (-84.3%)
Change from 2019-2020, operational costs only: $124,320 (-67.2%)

“It is important to note that FEMA reimbursement of these cost takes months and may only be reimbursed in future financial years,” McGee wrote. The $36,000 for additional hotel nights also has yet to be OK’d for reimbursement, “it is very likely to be approved.”

Additionally, Boulder may be compensated for extra staff and day services, according to McGee, making the entire budget reimbursable.

Housing and human services’ 2021 proposed budget is 8.3% smaller than 2020 base spending, though much of the department’s funding is supplemental, coming after the budget is approved. The current plan calls for a 9% reduction in staff, more than 44 full-time employees.

Program changes add requirements, drop day services

Unlike in past years, winter sheltering will not be available to residents unwilling to complete the coordinated entry screening process, which many have resisted. Clients will get one “grace night” per season; after that, they’ll be turned away.

Winter sheltering will be open every night during the coldest part of the year, Dec. 1 through March 15, and weather-triggered for the bookends of the winter season. (Oct. 1 to Dec. 1 and March 16 to May 31). Weather triggers are overnight temperatures below 32 degrees or 38 degrees with precipitation.

The shelter will also stay open until 11:30 a.m. and remain open all day during critical weather, a nod to the loss of day services that Bridge House provided. Having somewhere to serve as a “physical home-base” during the day is critical to clients attempting to change their housing status, Isabel McDevitt wrote in the Daily Camera when Bridge House handed off navigation services to Boulder Shelter.

McDevitt criticized the winter sheltering plan as inadequate in an interview with Boulder Beat last week regarding the death of an unhoused man during a summer snowstorm. The man was identified as John Aldridge, Daily Camera reported.

Aldridge did not seek services Tuesday, according to Boulder Shelter director Greg Harms, though he was known to the staff there.

City council meeting: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22. Watch online or on Channel 8.

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle

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3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. As a homeless camper in Boulder, I never chose to become dependent on either government social services or private nonprofits. And if I were still living outdoors, these cutbacks would make no difference to my lifestyle at all.

    I understand that it’s still possible to migrate farther south, to places that are warm in the wintertime. Just sayin’ . . .

    — Max R. Weller

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