City council and nonprofit providers are looking to open a day shelter to support people experiencing homelessness, but currently lack a building for this purpose and have historically faced some resistance to expanding services for the homeless. Your take?
Friday, March 18, 2022
Jane Hummer: Day or night, shelter is an essential human need
As a car-free person reliant on infrequent RTD buses, I spent a lot of time just waiting around in places like bus stations, parks, libraries and the Pearl Street Mall, giving me ample opportunity to observe our tax dollars at work as transit security and police officers constantly shuffle unhoused people out of these public spaces. It’s demoralizing to watch my fellow humans being told that they don’t belong in places where I am welcome, particularly since I know that wherever they end up next, it’s just a matter of time before they’re told to leave that spot, too. It’s dehumanizing when unhoused people are hassled about using public bathrooms that I can walk into without a second glance. The need for a day shelter could not be more evident.
As a community, we’ve accepted that we need a shelter where people can safely sleep. The work done by the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless is supported mainly through donations from community members and local nonprofits, as well as by tax dollars. Even some of the most vocal opponents of expanding services for the homeless seem to take pride in our shelter. Why, then, is the idea of having a dedicated place where the unhoused can take shelter during the day controversial? Where do we expect them to go?
I suspect that the resistance to a day shelter by people who accept the need for a night shelter is a misguided attempt at “tough love.” Perhaps they think that if we deny the unhoused access to shelter during the day and prevent them from resting in public spaces, they’ll be more likely to go look for work.
The tough love approach has fallen out of favor in the recovery community and does not actually encourage people to better their situation. It’s also far too costly, both in dollars and in our humanity.
Policing the presence of unhoused people in public spaces seems to satisfy the baser punitive instincts of many Boulderites, but without accompanying investments in alternative places to go that are safe, dignified and meet the actual needs of this population, it’s just expensive, anti-homeless performance art on the taxpayers’ dime. Spending this much money on an approach that has proven harmful to human health should make us all a bit queasy.
Jane Hummer lives in Boulder and works as a clean energy consultant. She is a Better Boulder board member. More about Jane.
Will Gretz: Create municipal income taxes for public housing
Boulder needs a day shelter. Our public libraries, bathrooms and RTD facilities have become de facto day shelters since our old one closed in 2017. This affects our elderly, young, disabled and low-income residents who rely on these services the most. Our only question is how to pay for the day shelter and how to address the lack of affordable housing that’s causing mass homelessness.
I am proposing progressive municipal income taxes on the rich and punitive property taxes on large landlords to fund homeless services, public rental housing and permanently affordable community land trusts. To do this, State law will have to be changed. There are plenty of wealthy residents who can afford to be taxed to pay for our day shelter if private charity won’t do it.
Municipal income taxes on the rich in status-symbol tech hubs like Boulder could raise desperately needed revenue for housing and services while driving away some of the upper class to make room for more middle-class people.
According to Amherst Capital, as of July 2021, 55% of multi-family housing in the country was investor-owned. People are being priced out of traditional low-income, free-market housing and into shelters or onto streets. These unaccountable, faceless, corporate real estate investment trusts (REITs) are now coming after single-family homes and mobile home parks, too.
The unregulated free market in housing is clearly failing the poor. Believing that the free market will provide affordable housing in a college town that’s also become a hub for the tech industry is ludicrously naive. The free market responds quickly to the needs of those who control it: the upper class and the upper-middle class who work for them. The rest of society needs protection from the ravages of the unregulated free market.
Will Gretz is a disabled, 22-year Boulder resident and a graduate of Front Range Community College and CU. He previously worked a wide variety of blue-collar jobs. More about Will.
Chelsea Castellano: Day Shelter is a bridge to housing
I want to live in a community where our neighbors and elected officials are constantly striving to serve and support people who need the most help. On some days it feels as though we achieve that dream, like when we celebrated lowering neighborhood speed limits to protect pedestrian safety, or when we declared ourselves a sanctuary city. On many days, it feels like we come up short.
Our failures are never more apparent than when a person dies on our streets because they could not afford a roof over their head and had nowhere else to go. Building a day shelter for those who are unhoused is not just about doing what is right; it is about investing in what will work.
A 2020 study from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development analyzed a spectrum of community responses to encampments and the effectiveness of those approaches. Research showed that conducting “sweeps” of encampments without providing support services or a place to go actually reduces the likelihood that people will seek shelter. This approach erodes trust and creates an adversarial relationship between people experiencing homelessness and law enforcement.
As a science-driven community, having access to this research should beg the question: What kind of support are we providing unhoused people in Boulder as they are being swept away?
Between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., unhoused people in Boulder have no sanctioned place to go. To make matters worse, in July the previous City Council passed an emergency law that allows police to forcibly remove tents from public spaces without notice.
For the most vulnerable in our community, this policy leaves people without the legal or physical ability to protect themselves from the scalding hot sun or the frigid cold. While we cannot change the decisions of the past, building a day shelter would be an evidence-based solution and compassionate decision we can make today.
The only true solution to ending homelessness is to build enough affordable housing so that every person has a place to call home. Until then, we must meet people where they are and provide the spaces and services to support their difficult journey ahead.
Chelsea Castellano is an organizer with Bedrooms Are For People and member of the city’s Landmarks Board. More about Chelsea.
Boulder Beat Opinion Panel members are writing in their own capacity. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of Boulder Beat.
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