Boulder lowers thresholds for daytime winter sheltering

Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020

Mere weeks after the beginning of the winter sheltering season in Boulder, the city is lowering thresholds to make daytime services available more often. The change is not related to a recent spate of sub-freezing temperatures that triggered opening of an emergency warming center, officials said. 

Severe weather sheltering, as it is known, is available at night when temps drop below freezing, or below 38 degrees with rain/snow forecast. In past years, daytime shelters were available, but those services were cut in a consolidation plan that took effect this season.

Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, which became the sole sheltering location, will remain open on days when the temperature dropped below 10 degrees or more than six inches of snow was expected. Such conditions are referred to as critical weather.

Under the change announced Wednesday, Boulder Shelter will be available when daytime temps fall below 20 degrees or when six-plus inches of snow is called for. The Shelter will also stay open until 11:30 a.m. every night beginning Dec. 1, through March 15.

The shift has been in the works for months, according to Kurt Firnhaber, director of housing and human services for the city — ever since council members expressed concerns about consolidation in July.

“It wasn’t a change as a result of the weather a week or so ago,” Firnhaber said, referring to the Oct. 25 storm that dumped a foot of snow on Boulder and saw daytime temps in the teens. The city opened an emergency warming center Oct. 26.

Elected officials did receive an update on winter sheltering plans in September, and numerous council members reiterated their worries about a lack of daytime services — particularly in light on library closures, which provide somewhere warm for residents to go. 

This plan was in the works at that time, Firnhaber said, but since details weren’t finalized, staff didn’t bring it up at the meeting. “We sort of stayed away from it a little bit, knowing that we were working on it.” 

Greg Harms, director of the Boulder Shelter, said staying open all day is a logistical challenge. Though the Shelter was approached earlier in the year about day services, it didn’t commit until recently. 

The city explored other options but couldn’t find any, Harms and Firnhaber said. There was some hope that COVID would start to be under control, allowing libraries to reopen.

“This is what we came down to,” Harms said. “It’s hard for us to do, but for a few months in the coldest part of the winter, especially with more limited daytime access, we thought it was the right thing.” 

The city also announced a central hub for Coordinated Entry, the screening process unhoused residents must go through if they want to utilize winter sheltering for more than one night. Beginning Nov. 23, it will be located at 909 Arapahoe Ave, and have hours of operation Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday hours are noon to 4 p.m. 

Coordinated entry has been conducted over the phone since the onset of COVID in March. It was not ideal, Firnhaber said.

“It’s obviously somewhat of a barrier to services over the phone. I think this is a good step in making it more accessible.”

Citizen watchdogs present at the Shelter on Sunday night reported that an individual was turned away because he did not have access to a phone in order to complete CE screening. Firnhaber said staff “looked into” those reports and “weren’t able to find any information.”

Harms was not aware of the alleged incident either. As a matter of policy, if coordinated entry isn’t available and an individual has already used their one free night, they will be admitted to the shelter with the expectation of completing the screening at a later time, Harms said.

Harms did say two people were turned away Tuesday, Oct. 27 because Boulder Shelter had reached capacity. Severe weather sheltering was not operating that night, he said. Overnight lows were forecast to be 24, according to the Daily Camera’s Oct. 27 edition.

“I think we had a couple of people turned away because they had not gone through CE. It wasn’t because it wasn’t available; I think they just didn’t do it.”

Overflow plans for the Shelter include sending at-risk persons to hotel rooms as part of COVID response. But that program doesn’t start until mid-November, according to Harms. Several residents are anticipated to be moved to hotels, freeing up shelter beds.

Author’s note: This story may be updated with additional information.

— Shay Castle,, @shayshinecastle

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