Homelessness Strategy

The city's Homelessness Strategy is built around the belief that Boulder community members should have the opportunity for a safe and stable place to live. The strategy expands pathways to permanent housing and increases access to programs and services. Since its implementation in 2017, Boulder has seen over 1,100 exits from homelessness (as of September 2021). The strategy will go through an update process in 2022.

As part of Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC), a collaboration between the City of Boulder, the City of Longmont and Boulder County, the city has worked to expand housing opportunities and supportive services, maximize efficiency and effectiveness through partnerships, increase public information and create safe and welcoming public spaces.

Homelessness Strategy Goals

  • Expand pathways to permanent housing and retention
  • Expand access to programs and services to reduce or prevent homelessness
  • Support an efficient and effective services system based on best practices and data
  • Support access to basic services as part of a pathway to self-sufficiency and stability
  • Support access to public information about homelessness and community solutions
  • Create welcoming and safe public spaces
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Data on Computer

By the numbers

Tracking key metrics creates an efficient and effective service system based on best practices and data driven results.

The Homelessness Services Dashboard displays data that helps us understand individuals and their outcomes.

Housing First Approach

Homelessness is a multi-faceted issue that challenges Boulder and communities across the nation to develop creative, meaningful solutions for our most vulnerable community members. Like most social policy issues, this problem is complex, and the answers are not simple or quick.

Research demonstrates that we can make a difference for people experiencing homelessness by focusing on root causes and the core issue of housing. Evidence suggests that getting individuals into housing as quickly as possible results in the best outcomes for people experiencing homelessness as well as the communities around them.

Boulder aligns its responses to homelessness through a Housing First philosophy. This approach is backed by significant national studies and is the only existing evidence-based solution for homelessness. Housing First anchors all services to exiting people from homelessness through housing. It reaches beyond short-term services to connect people to real, sustainable solutions. However, Housing First is not housing-only. Outreach, engagement, sheltering, counseling, case management and services continue to be provided but are viewed as tools to help people end their homelessness through permanent housing rather than as solutions themselves.

Housing First recognizes that people can more successfully address other problems (i.e., employment, mental health, addiction) once they are stably housed. The city supports unhoused community members by leveraging a tapestry of services to help people in exiting homelessness.

Impact of Housing Programs

In the city, specific housing impacts include:

  • 48 units of locally funded vouchers, a partnership with Boulder Housing Partners (BHP) and Boulder Shelter for the Homeless (BSH).
  • Two significant affordable housing projects, BHP’s Mount Calvary Senior Housing project and Element Properties’ Bluebird project, both located in the city of Boulder, recently received 4% federal and competitive State Housing Tax credits from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) to support the construction of 100 new housing units of permanently affordable housing.
  • Assistance with BSH for the purchase of housing geared toward people experiencing chronic homelessness who have criminal histories (which preclude them from traditional leasing programs)
  • City focus on the development of affordable housing. A large number of new units have come online through this commitment, including 30Pearl.  At 30Pearl there are independent living opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 20 of the units at 30Pearl are part of BHP’s Independent Living Program.
  • Municipal Court bridging program to bring people involved in the justice system into Permanent Supportive Housing.
  • Funding support for housing following Ready to Work graduation.

Understanding Homelessness

Our best estimates put the number of people experiencing homelessness in Boulder at 450, although there is no consistently accurate way to be sure. The 2020 Point-in-Time Count (PIT) found 689 individuals, either in families or in single households, were identified as experiencing homelessness throughout Boulder County. Our experience through Coordinated Entry (CE), adjusted for those who do not use the CE service, shows that a significant portion of single adults experiencing homelessness in Boulder County do so in the city of Boulder.

Of the survey respondents, 118 (17%) reported as experiencing unsheltered homelessness, while most individuals reported as staying in shelter (335 or 49%) or transitional housing (235 or 34%).

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Bar chart of residency type by family status

The information provided through Coordinated Entry (CE) shows that an average of 1,000 people come through one of the CE processes annually (this includes both Boulder and Longmont). Approximately 20% of people experiencing homelessness never come to CE, which makes the total closer to 1,200. Further information about CE visits can be found on the Homelessness Services Dashboard. It is important to note that this is a cumulative total and that many people experiencing homelessness who come to Boulder from other communities don’t stay.

Roughly 80% of people experiencing homelessness in Boulder are utilizing some form of sheltering, including Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Mother House, SPAN, TGTHR, EFAA’s emergency housing, or other organizations.

The Point-in-Time Count (PIT) is an annual count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons carried out on one night during the last ten calendar days of January. The PIT provides a snapshot of individuals and families who self-report as experiencing homelessness and who are willing to participate in the count and survey.

Every community in the nation is required to conduct PIT surveys to receive federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The PIT captures only the people who fit the HUD definition of homelessness, which does not include people living in motels paid from their own funds, “couch-surfing,” or those who are doubled up with other families. The PIT has methodology challenges due to differing criteria, survey methods and weather conditions each year and therefore is not considered to be an accurate way to determine the number of people experiencing homelessness in any given year. However, the PIT is a key piece of data that helps us understand how homelessness compares across communities and how it trends over time.

View a summary of the Boulder County 2020 Point in Time Count results here.

Of the 668 individuals who were surveyed in the 2020 PIT Count, 424 (62%) individuals identified as male and 257 (38%) individuals identified as female.

As displayed below, most of the people who identified as newly homeless were 18 years and younger. While the national homelessness population is aging, this is mostly reflected in people who report to be experiencing homelessness for lengthy periods of time.

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Bar chart of age among newly and chronic homeless

When comparing race and ethnicity by the PIT Count data and the U.S. Census, we can see a disparity among people of color and experiencing homelessness, especially among Black, multiracial and Latino populations. These disparities match national and regional trends.

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Bar chart comparing Boulder County 2020 PIT and Boulder County Census

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Bar chart comparing Boulder County 2020 PIT and Boulder County Census - Hispanic/Latino data

Homelessness is primarily an affordable housing issue:

  • The median rental housing cost for a one-bedroom apartment in the City of Boulder is $2,271

  • The median sales price for a detached single-family home in Boulder is $1,250,000

  • The 2021 median income for a household of one in Boulder County is $70,375

  • To afford the median one-bedroom rental unit in Boulder working full-time, the average household would need to make $43.61/hour working full time (2080 hours per year) or $90,709/year

  • At minimum wage, a one-person household would need to work 139 hours/week or 3.47 full-time jobs (40 hours/week) to not be cost burdened

  • These calculations do not account for other housing costs such as utilities, which can further contribute to being cost burdened

Conditions such as behavioral health and/or substance use are contributing factors to an individual’s ability to secure sufficient income to obtain and/or maintain housing. Substance use disorder is an issue experienced by housed and unhoused populations, and substance use can lead to evictions, job loss or other factors that contribute to loss of income and in turn, loss of housing. Mental health issues can also impact an individual’s ability to obtain and maintain steady employment and housing.

As the homeownership market continues to be unattainable for all but the highest income community members due to limited entry-level stock, high land and property costs and high down payment requirements, people are remaining in rental situations longer. Colorado had a 96% increase in land costs from 2012 to 2017, the second highest in the country. As people with higher incomes remain in rental units, median rent continues to increase, which in turn squeezes people with lower income levels out of affordability and into homelessness.

A significant portion of Boulder County renters are considered cost burdened or severely cost burdened. Cost burdened is defined as paying more than 30% of a household’s gross income on housing-related expenditures including rent/mortgage and utilities. A severe cost burden is considered paying more than 50% of a household’s gross income on housing-related expenditures. People at the lowest quartile of income who are severely cost burdened spend 77% less on healthcare, 37% less on food and 60% less on transportation than non-cost-burdened households in the same income category, which has long-term impacts on household sustainability.

People experiencing homelessness are no different than anyone else. Often, people experiencing homelessness come to Boulder in search of employment or quality of life opportunities. Other times, people experiencing homelessness in other areas of the state or country come to Boulder to escape crowded shelters and limited resources.

Once they get to Boulder, they often find themselves stuck because they cannot afford to live here, have no support systems and end up either becoming unhoused or exacerbating their homelessness through unhealthy coping mechanisms like drug and alcohol misuse. National research shows that the longer that someone experiences unsheltered homelessness, the more likely the person is to suffer from substance use disorders. Untreated mental illness can also be complicated by living on the streets. Both factors require costly and intensive responses and often lead to longer periods of homelessness for these individuals.

HUD defines chronic homelessness as having a disabling condition and living either in a place not meant for human habitation, a Safe Haven, an emergency shelter or an institutional care facility continuously for at least 12-months; or on at least four separate occasions in the last three-years, where the combined occasions total at least 12 months and where each period separating occasions is at least seven nights. If a person spends more than 90 nights in an institution (e.g., jail, mental health facility, substance use treatment, medical rehab), that person is no longer considered “chronic”.

There are several ways in which mental health and substance use disorders contribute to the challenge of exiting someone from homelessness.

  • Mental health issues and substance use disorders can often lead to the loss of a person’s support system. This means that the person, when faced with financial adversity, has no perceived other options than homelessness.

  • Without a steady, permanent place to sleep, it is incredibly difficult to maintain treatment routines, get and keep medications and attend doctor’s appointments. While all demographics suffer from a wide range of mental illnesses, people experiencing homelessness often have a higher incidence of certain diagnoses including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, paranoia, schizophrenia and major depressive disorder. In almost all these cases, lack of medication fosters behavior that impacts a person’s ability to trust service providers and increases the likelihood that a person will self-medicate through illegal substances or alcohol.

  • Methamphetamine (meth) has become very inexpensive and readily available to the unhoused, unsheltered population. Additionally, the production of meth has become easier in recent years and the quality can differ dramatically, often resulting in the addicted person suffering psychosis. Meth is highly addictive and has no real, successful medical treatment methods. There is a very low success rate for getting people to go through withdrawal willingly, and there is a shortage of withdrawal beds in the community. Moreover, people who are experiencing homelessness and who develop addictions to meth typically cannot afford to purchase the drug without participating in criminal activities. Thus, meth creates or complicates mental illness, can lead impeded decision-making, and is both highly addictive and hard to withdraw from.

  • Substance use disorder, whether through drugs or alcohol, often erodes a person’s ability to make life-safety decisions, such as using a shelter on extremely cold nights. This can be two-fold; either the person has self-medicated into a state in which they cannot make a reasoned decision about sheltering, or they do not want to shelter because they cannot actively use the substance while staying at the shelter.

  • Criminal records caused by or associated with an unhoused person’s mental health or substance use disorder can impact that person’s ability to locate a landlord that will accept their housing voucher. This is particularly true with meth; many landlords view meth usage in a multi-family setting as a public health issue for the whole community.

  • In some cases, a person’s mental illness or substance use is so extreme that they cannot live independently, even with regular check-ups from a case worker. There are severe limits to bed availability at skilled nursing facilities, and people experiencing homelessness often do not function well in such a setting. This leads to the person being returned to unsheltered homelessness.

  • When a person with significant mental illness or substance use disorder does receive housing support, there can be challenges with lease compliance. Case managers work diligently on the difficult job of housing retention because returning a person to homelessness can be extremely traumatic and can negatively impact the person’s future chance of housing stability.

People have the right to refuse services. As much as we might want to help someone, individuals can choose to remain in their vulnerable situation. There are many reasons why someone might not use sheltering or turn down housing. Even with the knowledge that people may choose to not use services or housing, outreach workers continue to find ways to help people make informed decisions. Some of the reasons provided to or witnessed by outreach workers are:

  • Mental health issues – Individuals experiencing mental health disorders like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or paranoia can find congregate living extremely difficult. These individuals usually live alone in open spaces, rather than in downtown areas or unsanctioned camps.

  • Substance Use Disorder – people with active addictions find it hard to live day-to-day in congregate settings where there are typically rules against substance use; this includes almost all shelters nationally and sanctioned camping common areas.

  • Criminal activity – While people experiencing unsheltered homelessness are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, there is a subset of people living unsheltered that wish to be left alone due to their criminal activity.

  • Pets – While surveys of unsanctioned camping and campers show a very low percentage of people who state this as the reason that they do not use shelters, there are a handful of people who will not be separated from their pets. The shelter currently takes service animals (which are different from emotional support animals) and has agreements with the Humane Society for temporary boarding of pets; however, many people who experience unsheltered homelessness and who have pets cannot bear to be even temporarily separated from them.

  • Violence or other threats to shelter safety – There are people living unsheltered who have been removed from the shelter because they violated rules of behavior in a congregate setting; the shelter must be able to protect the staff and other facility residents. Some people make self-limiting decisions which result in removal from the shelter environment. Depending on the severity of the infraction, this suspension may last a few days or be considered “Long-term” (at least a year with a reinstatement review at the end of the year). When a person experiencing unsheltered homelessness reports that they are banned from the shelter, an outreach worker researches their case and provides them with up-to-date information on the individual circumstances.

  • Couples – While Boulder Shelter for the Homeless serves all genders, they are housed in separate dorms for congregate safety. Some couples experiencing homelessness wish to sleep in the same space.

  • Temporary residency – Some people experiencing homelessness are “passing through” Boulder. There are some people for whom camping is a lifestyle choice. They tend to stay in an area for a period of time and move along to another area after a while. This population has traditionally grown in the summer months.

  • Vehicles – Since a vehicle is often the only asset a person experiencing homelessness may own, they choose to live in their vehicle, even in inclement weather, rather than parking it and using shelter.

Beyond the idea that people have free will and choice when it comes to how and where they live, the Housing First philosophy has deep roots in the Boulder Homelessness Strategy and Homeless Solutions for Boulder County. This evidence-based approach, which has been rigorously upheld through numerous national peer-reviewed studies, has shown that people are more likely to engage with services when they have choice and some autonomy.

Homelessness Strategy and Policy

Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC) was established to leverage resources and to make data-driven policy decisions about single adult homelessness from a regional perspective. This includes the cities of Boulder and Longmont, Boulder County and the local housing authorities, as well as representatives from Metro Denver Homeless Initiative and the Executive Board of HSBC. Executive Board members are appointed by the Boulder County Commissioners and make policy decisions about services and housing provided to single adults experiencing homelessness throughout Boulder County. The Executive Board approves any funding requests that go to the respective jurisdictions and guides the HSBC Policy Implementation Team. The Policy Implementation Team works with various service providers, people with lived experience in homelessness and community members across several work groups to operationalize the policy direction of the Executive Board.

Family homelessness policy decisions are made by a subcommittee of the Boulder County Family Resource Network.

Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC) hosts periodic community forums. HSBC is also setting up an Innovation and Design workgroup to evaluate new ideas for possible implementation within the system. Due to the workload and the need for adequate representation of persons with lived experience in homelessness, group membership is handled through an application process. Information about the next forum and the Innovation and Design workgroup application (when made available) can be found on the county's website.

Boulder has made a significant investment in ending homelessness and Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC) is often cited as a best practice by consultants, the State of Colorado and national organizations such as the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). However, HSBC continually evaluates programming that has been successful in other communities for implementation in our community or to improve existing services.

Not all things that work in one community will work in others. Part of the evaluation of possible initiatives, beyond finding funding and providers, includes:

  • Evaluating successes – Defining why the initiative was successful and whether that success would meet Boulder’s needs.

  • Filling the gap – Does the initiative address a documented need or challenge in the community? To what end and to what level?

  • Connection to Housing First, HSBC and Boulder’s Homelessness Strategy – Does the initiative align with the community’s goals? What positive and negative impacts will an initiative have on existing pathways out of homelessness?

  • Cost benefit analysis – What are the opportunity costs of funding the initiative and does the benefit of providing these services outweigh the costs?

The HSBC Innovation and Design workgroup is being established evaluate proposals while using a countywide lens for potential implementation or funding.

Built for Zero is a methodology and collaborative of cities, counties and care providers that have committed to measurably ending homelessness, one subpopulation at a time. Using data, these communities have changed how local homeless response systems work and the impact they can achieve. The goal of Built for Zero is to reach Functional Zero, meaning that housing efforts reach a certain threshold and are sustained. The Homelessness Strategy and Homeless Solutions for Boulder County mirror many of the tenets of Built for Zero. The Built for Zero effort in the Front Range is currently focusing on veteran homelessness.

Metro Denver Homeless Initiative (MDHI), as the local Continuum of Care, is the lead agency for Built for Zero work in the front range. As a partner in the Continuum of Care, and independently, Homeless Solutions for Boulder County has had an active representative in various work groups. Two Boulder City Council Members also participate in the workgroup for elected officials.

This information is extremely difficult to compile, in that every city collects this information differently, and some communities don’t report this information at all. A brief scan of available information shows that Boulder is a leader in financial commitment toward homelessness response, especially in comparison to Boulder’s size. The City of Boulder’s Housing and Human Services Department expends approximately $30 per Boulder resident annually for homelessness services. This compares to an average of $4-$8 per resident in other communities.

Boulder’s homelessness response is not limited to one department. Homelessness touches almost every department in the city. While most support of sheltering and services resides within the Housing and Human Services (HHS) Department, the Police and Municipal Court departments have significant non-enforcement programs. The Police Department operates a two officer Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) to work with people experiencing unsheltered homelessness. In addition to offering such things as Community Court in conjunction with existing homelessness services, the Municipal Court funds two homelessness navigators whose main goal is to house people with involvement in the criminal justice system. City departments involved with homelessness include:

  • City Attorney’s Office

    • Warrant Clustering - A program that reduces the use of the Boulder County Jail for unhoused defendants who commit quality of life offenses. This program reduced arrests for municipal offenses by 40% from 2019-2020. Read the city’s Warrant Clustering Pilot Program Evaluation to learn more.

    • Boulder County Reentry Council - Since 2019, the city participates in monthly meetings to discuss unhoused high-utilizers of the criminal justice system with the goal of interrupting the cycle of homelessness, jail and other emergency services so unhoused individuals can find long-term success in the community. The council consists of representatives from multiple government agencies and nonprofits across Boulder County.  

  • Communication and Engagement

    • Facilitation of community conversations that include people experiencing homelessness.

    • Emergency Response Connectors – People with lived experience who educate others experiencing homelessness about COVID-19.

  • Community Vitality

    • Downtown Ambassador Program – Ambassadors provide education and connect individuals to resources. This program is in partnership with Downtown Business Partners.

  • Housing and Human Services (HHS)

  • Library

    • During COVID-19 restrictions, the library made specific effort to allow unhoused persons to be able to use facilities.

    • General library staffing - Staff trained in trauma-informed assistance to unhoused persons.

  • Municipal Court

    • Community Court - Starting in 2020, the Boulder Municipal Court began holding sessions of court at Deacon’s Closet and Central Park to meet unhoused individuals where they are and connect them to housing and behavioral health resources and dismiss quality of life offenses in return for successfully connecting with those resources. In 2021, they successfully diverted approximately 400 cases through community court. Watch this video to learn more about Community Court.

    • Homeless Navigators- dedicated staff members who assist people experiencing homelessness who are also involved with the justice system in obtaining housing

    • Transitional housing – temporary housing for people as they move to permanent supportive housing

    • Pop-up substance use counseling and a substance use counsel available for all community court clients.

    • Follow-up visits for people who have been housed to help them remain in housing.

  • Parks and Recreation

    • Arts in the Parks – Scholarships for individuals experiencing homelessness to attend programming.

    • Requity – Pass to allow unhoused or low-income persons to be able to use recreation centers.

    • Urban Park Ranger – Providing connection to resources to unhoused persons.

    • Mapleton Toilet – Additional public toilet put in place during COVID-19 in area frequented by people experiencing homelessness (contract administered by Boulder Parks and Recreation, paid by HHS).

    • General Recreation Center - Staff trained in trauma-informed assistance to unhoused persons.

  • Police Department

  • Utilities

Yes. There are multiple mechanisms to get people housed while they live on the street. Depending on the person’s experience and needs, this can range from general outreach services to more intensive involvement through organizations/programs such as BTHERE, the Homeless Outreach Team, Mental Health Partners or the Municipal Court Homeless Navigators.

Research shows that it can take up to 17 encounters with an individual to convince them to engage with services or housing options. When someone is consistently staying in a sheltering system, it is easier to get them engaged and on a path to housing.

There are also community and faith-based services available to people living unsheltered. While most of these services are focused on the distribution of food and supplies, some services are connected to more housing-focused options.

Before 2017, services for people experiencing homelessness were focused on emergency sheltering services rather than long-term solutions such as housing. Multiple community organizations, funded through various sources, provided a disparate array of homeless services programs for adults. The community lacked a common data and outcome measurement process services through which to evaluate or adjust programming.

Both unhoused people and the community were dissatisfied with the ability of these services to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. The focus on emergency sheltering services with no clear exit strategy also put considerable financial and administrative stress on local government and nonprofit partners, with the demands for more sheltering space and funding increasing every year with no clear positive outcomes.

In 2016, the city convened a community working group to identify and address issues concerning adult homelessness. The group included representatives from homeless services organizations, local government, mental health providers, housing advocates and people with lived experience in homelessness. In collaboration with a nationally recognized consultant, Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH), Boulder developed a Homelessness Strategy that was adopted by City Council in 2017.  

The city’s Homelessness Strategy was adopted in 2017. The primary function of the system has shifted from emergency sheltering to the evidence-based solutions of housing and exits from homelessness. The key strategies are: 

  • Expand pathways to permanent housing and retention.

  • Support access to public information.

  • Support access to a continuum of basic services.

  • Create safe and welcoming public spaces.

  • Support best practices and data-driven results.

  • Expand access to programs to reduce or prevent homelessness.

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Boulder homelessness strategy

As part of the restructuring of homeless services countywide, a collaboration between local government entities and other stakeholders was put into place as Homelessness Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC). A major component of the first year of the strategy was the design and implementation of a new adult homeless services system. The HSBC Executive Board developed the following guiding principles, which align with Boulder’s Homelessness Strategy: 

  • Align the overall system and its services with the Housing First approach 

  • Take an outcomes-based approach to system management, including adopting evidence-based practices and using data to understand and improve system performance 

  • Prioritize resources for Boulder County community members and the most vulnerable 

  • Focus investment on housing solutions 

A sanctioned camping space is a location where a person can camp without violating camping bans. Sanctioned camping spaces can be funded through a city or county, be fully funded through a nonprofit or faith-based organization or be a partnership of various entities. Key to the successful operation of a sanctioned camping space is a strong administrator of the program. While some campgrounds have been in place for decades and can allow for self-governance and self-security, a service agency provides case management, general oversight, and connections to long-term exits from homelessness.

Nationally, there are varying degrees of amenities at sanctioned sites such as security, showers, common cooking areas and restrooms. The types of structures also vary from elevated tents to small solar-heated structures, and the level to which a campground is connected to housing or case management resources also varies. Who stays in sanctioned camping spaces also vary by climate. In cities with a large number of shelter beds, the unsheltered population tends to have high rates of disability and mental health issues, which may create challenges to entering shelters. In contrast, in cities with limited shelter availability (or where barriers to shelter use are higher), the unsheltered population represents a greater mix of people. Most cities with robust, long-standing programs are in warm or temperate climates.

Establishing sanctioned camping spaces will unlikely meet the goal of fully eradicating unsanctioned camping. According to an ABT Associates 2019 study of unsanctioned camping for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), “currently, limited evidence suggests that sanctioned camps help to reduce homelessness; we also do not know whether certain types of sanctioned camps are more effective than others.”

Allowing people experiencing unsheltered homelessness to stay indefinitely in sanctioned camping without the Housing First approach (the expectation of working towards housing) undermines the goals of Boulder’s current sheltering system, as well as the city and county’s strategy to address and end homelessness.

Due to limitations in finding housing for the most vulnerable persons experiencing homelessness in Boulder, various approaches would need to be considered to prioritize housing resources while maintaining the potential growth of campgrounds with the possible inflow of people wanting to live in the camp. Regardless of the solution, as National Alliance to End Homelessness Vice Chair Steve Berg stated in 2018, “If the only response is more shelter, each new shelter will quickly fill up, and unsheltered homelessness will continue to grow…a community must consider how each person will exit to housing from that shelter.”

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) cautioned cities to consider a variety of issues when determining the implementation of sanctioned camping spaces, stating “As we respond to the crisis of unsheltered homelessness, we must not repeat past mistakes of focusing only on where people will be tonight. We must simultaneously be focused on where people can succeed in the long term – and we know that is permanent housing.” USICH looked to the importance of weighing costs and consequences of sanctioned camp spaces, noting:  

  • These environments have little impact on reducing homelessness.  

  • Creating these environments can be costly in money, staff time, and effort.  

  • These environments can prove difficult to manage and maintain.  

  • Often proposed as temporary approaches, these programs prove difficult to close once they open.  

Ultimately, the success of sanctioned camping space is related to understanding the community’s goals in establishing it. If the goal is to eliminate unsanctioned camping or to ensure camping does not occur in certain parts of town, sanctioned camping is unlikely to aid the community in reaching this goal. If the goal is to aid a handful of people who have real and documented reasons for not being able to access shelter, a small, sanctioned campsite, supported with rules, oversight and accountability, this option may work for these individuals. Area cities that have invested heavily in sanctioned camping find success for the people who choose to stay in them and participate in case management but also see an increase in unsanctioned camping. Additionally, cities report that designated camping is a drain on resources that could be used more effectively for housing interventions.

Housing First is a philosophy that guides Boulder’s homelessness strategy and is nationally considered best practice in homelessness services. As articulated by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the Housing First approach to homeless assistance focuses on providing people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing, which serves as a platform for clients to address other personal goals and challenges. Housing First assumes that people are better able to address issues like securing employment, budgeting, and dealing with substance use after they are in housing and have their basic needs met, and the evidence supports this approach.

Sanctioned camping spaces that have little to no connection to services or housing would not be considered to be in alignment with Housing First. No expectation of housing or other exits from homelessness means that sanctioned camping would not be a tool for long-term stability. Additionally, while costs for sanctioned camping spaces vary by community, most have costs per tent that are equal to rental assistance.

A campground that was structured to specifically meet the needs of people working toward housing who could not access shelter would align with the principles of Housing First.

Should council decide to approve a sanctioned camping space, staff has recommended that a small pilot be run. During the pilot period, staff would focus on obtaining community and lived-experience input for possible improvements to the pilot. An overview of recommended components of the pilot campground would include: 

  • Limited size to 25 tents on elevated platforms 

  • Eligibility criteria would include:

    • Completion of Coordinated Entry (CE) and screened to either Housing Focused Shelter or Navigation Services 

    • Compelling reason for not being able to utilize shelter (pet, couple, long term suspension, mental health/substance use disorder, etc.) 

  • Priority given to high utilizers of the justice or hospital systems  

  • Uniformly provided tents and sleeping bags 

  • Partnership with an operating organization with demonstrated ability to work with the HSBC system – oversee operations, provide food, connections to long-term resources, case management services, etc. 

  • Controlled access/fencing 

  • Nighttime security services 

  • Limited stay to two years and requirement for demonstrated engagement with housing efforts; not a drop-in service 

  • Communal kitchen area and common area with heating 

  • One electrical outlet per tent for a space heater or electric blanket. No propane or gas heating allowed within tents 

  • Harm reduction approach to substances – no alcohol, marijuana, or illegal substances in common areas or within one block of the sanctioned campground

  • Resident commitments to communal living – site cleanliness, food preparation, etc.  

As evidence shows that this intervention will not solve unsanctioned camping issues across the community, staff has recommended this as a solution for a limited number of people who do not have access to or will not access shelter. Requiring screening through CE aligns with overall strategies and targeting of expensive resources to community members. Moreover, it allows data collection and ease of connection to housing or other homelessness exit resources. Structuring a sanctioned campground like transitional housing (up to 24 months) rather than sheltering further emphasizes the use of this camping space as a vehicle to engage people in exiting homelessness.

At the 2022 City Council retreat, one of the items on the council’s workplan referenced the creation of a day shelter. Council has requested that, in conjunction with the creation of a day shelter, a community group be put in place to research the need for certain homelessness services and the best configuration for day sheltering. This project will be facilitated by a consultant and may take up to two years to fully implement.

City Council wants to ensure that staff evaluate best and emerging practices, avoid unintended consequences, hire a consultant and collect significant community input. Once a model is defined, the community will need to locate a space, which might include property purchase and renovation, and solicit a partner to operate the shelter.

Homeless Solutions for Boulder County and Regional Work

Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC) is a regional organization that includes Boulder County and the Cities of Boulder and Longmont, nonprofits working to impact homelessness and the local housing authorities. This regional, integrated service system combines a Coordinated Entry process with the provision of timely and appropriate supportive and housing services to efficiently assist people in moving out of homelessness and into housing.

For more information, and to view the HSBC annual report, visit https://www.bouldercounty.org/departments/community-services/homeless/.

The HSBC Executive Board oversees a Policy Implementation Team. This Policy Implementation Team oversees various work groups and HSBC often engages with the community through community forums.

Members of the Executive Board are appointed by Boulder County Commissioners. Executive Board membership includes director-level representation from City of Longmont, City of Boulder and Boulder County; representatives from the local housing authorities; and the Executive Director of Metro Denver Homeless Initiative.

The Policy Implementation Team members are staff members of the three governmental entities.

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HSBC Governance & System Structure

There are multiple ways in which the system gathers input from people experiencing homelessness including:

  • HSBC Lived-Experience workgroup

  • HSBC Innovation and Design workgroup

  • Focus groups for masterplans

  • Coordinated Entry screening

  • Case management

  • Feedback to outreach workers, ambassadors, and cleanup teams

One challenge is gathering information about why people do not use shelters or service. The Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC) Coordinated Entry workgroup frequently works on addressing this issue, designing surveys and conducting interviews with people who are living unsheltered.

Partner organizations are highly involved with Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC). If any individual or organization is interested in working with HSBC, please visit the HSBC website for contact information.

The Continuum of Care (CoC) is a HUD program designed to promote communitywide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness; provide funding for efforts by nonprofit providers and state and local governments to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families while minimizing the trauma and dislocation caused by homelessness; promote access to and effect utilization of mainstream programs by homeless individuals and families; and optimize self-sufficiency among individuals and families experiencing homelessness. The Metro Denver Homelessness Initiative (MDHI) is our regional CoC serving the seven-county Denver Metro region, Boulder County included.

MDHI works closely with each county in the CoC (Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, and Jefferson), building a homeless crisis response system aimed at getting people stably housed as quickly as possible.

Coordinated Entry

In Boulder County, people experiencing homelessness can access services and housing resources through Coordinated Entry. Coordinated Entry is a short screening, during which people are asked questions to determine their needs and match them with services. During the Coordinated Entry process, people are also assessed for possible Diversion Services. If a person’s homelessness can be immediately resolved, the Diversion Specialist can provide financial (e.g., bus passes, car repairs, etc.) or non-financial (e.g., landlord discussions or conversations with long-term treatment facilities) assistance to make that happen.

Single adults experiencing homelessness in Boulder County are eligible for the service options through Coordinated Entry. Coordinated Entry is considered the “front door” for single adults to receive sheltering and services in Boulder County. Youth, victims of domestic violence, pregnant women and families are referred to appropriate sheltering resources. Women and transgender individuals can be referred to a separate shelter if they request.

For a closer look at Coordinated Entry, view the City of Boulder’s Homelessness Services Dashboard.

People experiencing homelessness can access the Coordinated Entry by calling 303-579-4404. In-person assessments are also provided at 909 Arapahoe Ave, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 12 to 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Coordinated Entry cannot be accessed through the front door of the Age Well-West Building; the Coordinated Entry door is located at the west side of the building, facing 9th Street.

Shelter Services and Programs

Boulder Shelter for the Homeless has a maximum facility capacity of 160 beds. On Critical Weather Nights, Boulder Shelter for the Homeless will make an additional 20 beds available. This creates more space at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless facility for people who need congregate sheltering services.

Bed usage is tracked on a nightly basis. More information can be found on the Homelessness Services Dashboard.

People who are participating in the Reserved Bed program do not have limits on how many nights they can use the shelter. People who choose not to participate in the Reserved Bed program are limited to 90 nights annually (Oct. 1 – Sept. 30). Nights that meet Critical Weather Conditions are not counted against this limitation.

Anyone who is over 18 years of age and who has not been suspended from Boulder Shelter for the Homeless can access sheltering. Coordinated Entry screening is required for sheltering. If a person needs sheltering but Coordinated Entry is not open, grace nights will be provided to the person until Coordinated Entry is available.

Between Feb. 1, 2020, and Aug. 1, 2021, there was a restriction of more intensive sheltering programs, and sheltering beyond severe weather nights was provided only to people who had self-reported Boulder County residency of six months or more. This restriction has since been removed.

With the removal of the six-month residency requirement on Aug.1, 2021, the system slightly redesigned the way that people use shelter programming. People using Boulder Shelter for the Homeless (BSH) must still be screened by Coordinated Entry (CE). Coordinated Entry provides valuable information about a person’s need and allows an opportunity for shelter staff to assess the person’s ability to be diverted from the sheltering system. If a person is not divertible, the person is screened as meeting the general characteristics of the Housing Focused Shelter (HFS) or Navigation Services. As BSH provides individualized case management services, these CE screening categories are general guides to the case management staff for the likely interventions best suited to the individual.

People staying at BSH can choose to participate in the Reserved Bed program with no limit to the number of nights they can stay at BSH. Available beds are prioritized for those in the Reserved Bed program. If a person does not choose to participate in the Reserved Bed program, the person is limited to 90 nights annually (Oct. 1 – Sept. 30) and is characterized as “standby.” Critical weather nights do not count against this total. On nights where shelter capacity is likely to be reached, standby clients enter a lottery for available beds. Shelter usage is tracked on the Homelessness Services Dashboard.

Boulder Shelter for the Homeless (BSH) prioritizes available beds for participants of the Reserved Bed program. Program participants agree to staying consistently at BSH, upholding codes of conduct, and arranging with the shelter when they cannot stay at BSH for an evening. While there are currently few requirements for the Reserved Bed program, the goal of having people use the program is that consistent stays at the shelter will put them in frequent contact with case managers and resource connectors, thereby increasing their likelihood of engagement with exit-focused resources.

Standby status is a designation for people who choose not to engage with the Reserved Bed program. People in the “standby” designation are limited to 90 nights of non-critical-weather stays annually. As beds are prioritized for participants in the Reserved Bed program, standby clients are subject to a lottery system for bed placement and are not guaranteed a bed. Because all available beds are used for anyone seeking shelter, regardless of engagement with the system, this is in effect year-round no-consequence severe weather shelter.

Yes. When the shelter comes close to or reaches capacity, typically in the fall and winter, a lottery system is implemented. In such cases, and to ensure fairness in bed placement, people who are considered “standby” and are awaiting placement will be entered into a lottery by shelter staff for bed assignment. In the case of nights where the shelter’s bed capacity is likely to be reached by participants in the Reserved Bed program, the shelter will prioritize bed placement based on individual criteria.

Boulder Shelter for the Homeless (BSH) is located at 4869 N. Broadway, Boulder, CO 80304.

Coordinated Entry (CE) screening is required for shelter stays. CE can be accessed during business hours at 909 Arapahoe or by calling 303-579-4404. CE business ours are as follows:

  • Mondays, Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Tuesdays between 12 to 4 p.m.

If CE is unavailable, grace nights can be provided at BSH until CE is available. People who have been given grace nights but then choose not to be screened at CE will not be able to stay at BSH except when weather conditions are considered Critical Weather.

There is a free bus to take people from downtown to the shelter and back in the morning. The bus leaves from the corner of Walnut and 11th street at 5 p.m. daily.

All congregate living situations need rules to protect staff and the other residents of the facility. Boulder Shelter for the Homeless (BSH) has established policies and procedures for when a person violates these rules. BSH is an independent organization that establishes its own policies and procedures that align with national shelter best practices, and regularly reviews them to ensure that they are fair. Rules are established to meet health and safety requirements. How long a person is suspended from the shelter depends on the severity of the infraction.

These programs still exist. However, Boulder Shelter for the Homeless now reports daily bed utilization in terms of Reserved Bed participants and Standby clients. While case management is tailored to the individual’s needs, it generally follows the standards of either Housing Focused Shelter or Navigation. All people screened through Coordinated Entry receive case management referrals based on these two programs, and all shelter exits are tied to these programs.

This program provides short-term support for lower-needs individuals who require limited assistance to get back into permanent housing. Individuals using this program work with a case manager to develop a housing plan and can receive mediation support, financial assistance, legal assistance, assistance reunifying with support networks, and links to county and other community programs as needed. Overnight sleeping space is also available to qualified Navigation participants who need a place to stay in the short term.

Clients are screened as likely to need Navigation Services through the Coordinated Entry screening process when they do not self-report a disabling condition. Boulder Shelter for the Homeless (BSH) works off individually tailored case plans and a person who was screened as likely needing Navigation Services may or may not receive short-term services, depending on their acuity of need.

The most frequent exits from homelessness under a Navigation program are reunification with support systems or connection to long-term or treatment service programs.

Housing-Focused Shelter (HFS) facilitates housing for individuals who have significant barriers to housing (disabling conditions, long-term homelessness, etc.) by providing overnight sheltering and wrap-around services on an extended basis. Those participating in HFS can remain at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless (BSH) until they have been successfully, permanently housed if they are also participating in the Reserved Bed program.

HFS case management focuses on connecting people experiencing homelessness with supportive housing, aiding in housing searches, and transitioning clients to permanent supportive housing programs.

Diversion services seek to assist people experiencing homelessness with creative and immediate solutions to their housing issues, and these services aim to redirect people from temporary shelter toward alternate housing options. The goal of the HSBC system is to reduce homelessness through a coordinated, housing-focused approach while prioritizing services to the most vulnerable, long-term Boulder County community members. To that end, diversion services can provide essential assistance to individuals while conserving scarce resources for priority populations. Diversion services are designed to promote client empowerment in determining housing solutions.

Diversion services are offered to all people who visit the Coordinated Entry location whose homelessness can be addressed without sheltering. If a person requires sheltering for reunification or other resolution factors, they enter the shelter system under the Navigation or Housing-Focused Shelter designation.

This is not just a bus ticket out of town – the diversion specialist works with the person experiencing homelessness to ensure that the person will be returning to a safe and stable environment. The most common resolution is a reunification with family or friends.

The ways that people exit homelessness are as varied as the individual needs of people experiencing homelessness. Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC) generally reports exits (housing exits) from homelessness under the following categories:

  • Diversion

  • Reunification

  • Long-term programs

  • Treatment

  • Housing

  • Other

The Housing category includes permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing, rental assistance programs, market housing, or other creative housing solutions. For more information about the number and types of exits from Boulder Shelter for the Homeless (and prior to June 1, 2020, Bridge House) has seen from October 2017, see the Homelessness Services Dashboard.

Diversion includes exits from homelessness that do not require sheltering. While most diversion exits are reunified with support systems, they do not need any case management services to make the connections happen.

Reunification services require a shelter stay and case management assistance to facilitate the connection.

In both cases, the diversion specialist or case manager works to ensure that the person is welcomed and reconnected into a safe and stable situation. Because of the need to make this connection, diversions are rarer than reunifications.

Diversion services, including reunification, are a nationally emerging practice. Most often, people experiencing homelessness who are new to the Boulder community are already experiencing homelessness when they come to Boulder. They often get to Boulder and find it too difficult to exit homelessness without their support systems or they get stuck here on their way to new opportunities.

National research has shown that the longer a person experiences homelessness, the greater the barriers they face in exiting homelessness. Providing diversion services can reconnect individuals with safe and stable living situations. In addition, this allows the community to focus expensive and intensive housing services on people who do not have other options.

In December 2018, the City of Boulder leased space at 2691 30th Street. This space, which was always considered temporary, was used to provide 72 beds for severe weather shelter and 50 beds for the Navigation program. On average, the Navigation program only served 38 people at any given time and the average Navigation bed usage dropped to approximately 10-15 people in the last eight months that the 30th Street shelter was open.

To run the operations at 2691 30th Street, the city spent over $1 million per year. Those funds could be reallocated to support a new Diversion program, focus on case managed shelter programming and significantly increase the locally funded housing voucher program.

At Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, efforts were made to house very vulnerable high utilizers of the shelter through the newly created local housing vouchers. Research showed that housing one long-term shelter utilizer would create space for six additional people each year. In addition, the focus on diversion and reunification would lead to more people either exiting homelessness or not using the shelter.

Part of the strategy to move the community to a more housing-based approach to ending homelessness was to consolidate sheltering services to one location. Boulder County ran a request for proposals for sheltering services and awarded the contract to Boulder Shelter for the Homeless. The 30th Street lease terminated on May 31, 2020, and services were consolidated to Boulder Shelter for the Homeless.

Boulder Shelter for the Homeless focuses on nightly sheltering and morning case management services. Daytime closure allows the shelter time to sanitize the facility for nighttime use.

One of the key components of HSBC’s Homelessness Strategy is to encourage people to take an active role in their journey to exit homelessness. Participants are encouraged to address components of their action plans during the day.

People who are utilizing hotel rooms on an ongoing basis through the winter are allowed to stay in the rooms 24/7.

Winter Sheltering and Planning

Critical Weather Conditions are when the forecast is predicted to be 10°F or below in the evening, 20°F or below during the day and/or six inches or more of snowfall is expected. When the forecast shows that Critical Weather Conditions will be reached, Boulder Shelter for the Homeless will make an additional 20 beds available at the shelter. Boulder Shelter for the Homeless uses forecast information from the National Weather Service. Because of the significant effort required to make this happen, Boulder Shelter for the Homeless makes determinations at least 24 hours prior to the expected weather (48 hours over weekends).

Before the change was made to allow for people who are not engaged with programming to stay at the shelter, available beds were used when temperatures were forecast to be 32°F or below or 38°F below with precipitation. This was known as Severe Weather Shelter.

When Critical Weather Conditions are expected to be reached during the daytime, a high of 20°F or below, the shelter will remain open to the people who stayed the night before.

The removal of the Serve Weather Shelter designation was part of a policy change that expanded bed availability year-round.

In June 2021, the Homeless Solutions for Boulder County Executive Board approved the elimination of a six-month residency requirement for year-round sheltering. This policy change was fully implemented on Aug. 1, 2021. Since people can now utilize all available shelter beds regardless of Boulder County residency, all year, there is no need for unused shelter beds to be made available only on weather-triggered nights. People who would like to stay at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless can choose to participate in the Reserved Bed program or maintain a Standby status.

Housing Efforts

Homelessness is a multi-faceted issue that challenges Boulder and communities across the nation to develop creative, meaningful solutions for our most vulnerable community members. Like most social policy issues, this problem is complex, and the answers are not simple or quick.

Research demonstrates that we can make a difference for people experiencing homelessness by focusing on root causes and the core issue of housing. Evidence suggests that getting individuals into housing as quickly as possible results in the best outcomes for people experiencing homelessness as well as the communities around them.

Boulder aligns its responses to homelessness through a Housing First philosophy. This approach is backed by significant national studies and is the only existing evidence-based solution for homelessness. Housing First anchors all services to exiting people from homelessness through housing. It reaches beyond short-term services to connect people to real, sustainable solutions. However, Housing First is not housing-only. Outreach, engagement, sheltering, counseling, case management and services continue to be provided but are viewed as tools to help people end their homelessness through permanent housing rather than as solutions themselves.

Housing First recognizes that people can more successfully address other problems (i.e., employment, mental health, addiction) once they are stably housed. The city supports unhoused community members by leveraging a tapestry of services to help people in exiting homelessness.

Aimed at addressing the housing needs of the most vulnerable unhoused individuals and families, PSH uses the Housing-First approach to provide long-term housing assistance and supportive services to people who are considered to be experiencing chronic homelessness. Chronic homelessness is linked to significantly lengthy periods of homelessness coupled with a disabling condition. Many of the people who are at the highest priority for PSH exhibit mental health, physical health, and substance use disorder, a condition known as tri-morbidity.

PSH is provided through a number of funding sources and is the most intensive option for people who are experiencing homelessness. The type of services provided under PSH depends on the needs of the residents and may be provided on a short-term, sporadic, ongoing, or indefinite basis. The housing is usually “affordable” or intended to serve people on a Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Rental assistance remains in place until a person voluntarily decides that they no longer need the service or if the person can no longer maintain an independent living situation.

In February 2016 the Boulder County Consortium of Cities and the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness Board of Directors (Boulder County Ten-Year Plan Board) engaged the Community Strategies Institute to provide an assessment of the need for Permanent Supportive Housing throughout Boulder County, focused on chronically homeless individuals. The assessment was to identify the number of chronically homeless individuals in Boulder County and provide a profile of their needs, identify current resources available to these individuals, identify barriers and challenges to the development of permanent housing solutions for these residents and identify the types of properties and projects that could be developed in Boulder County to meet housing needs.

Prioritization for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) depends on the housing voucher provider. Many vouchers are handled through Metro Denver Homeless Initiative’s (MDHI) OneHome system. In these cases, prioritization criteria are defined by MDHI. Locally funded vouchers use specific or targeted prioritization factors. Housing providers meet monthly to conduct case conferencing to match people on a case-by-case basis with the right housing opportunity. Outreach workers and case managers work with prospective housing voucher recipients to ensure that they have all necessary documentation, have completed a vulnerability assessment (VI-SPDAT) and get placed in the regional system for prioritization.

In all cases, a recipient of a PSH voucher must be experiencing chronic homelessness (lengthy homelessness and a disabling condition), and prioritization is generally geared toward placing people with the highest levels of vulnerability.

The local housing authorities recently received Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHV) as part of the federal government’s response to COVID-19. Homeless Solutions for Boulder County, in partnership with MDHI, developed the “Move Up/Move On program” to connect recipients with EHV vouchers. As these vouchers do not come with supportive services, the community determined that people who had stabilized in existing programs, and who do not need such intensive services, could voluntarily “Move On” to an EHV. Some people who were participating in time-limited rapid rehousing programs but whose acuity necessitated a more permanent housing solution were “Moved Up” to EHVs. In each of these cases, the existing resources could then be used for other vulnerable people in the community.

Multiple national studies and work completed prior to the establishment of the Homelessness Strategy shows that not housing a person experiencing chronic homelessness costs the community approximately $50,000 per person per year in such categories as emergency services, justice-involvement and hospital usage. Each Permanent Supportive Housing unit costs approximately $20,000 per year per person, including rental assistance and intensive case management services.

Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC), the three local housing authorities, Mental Health Partners, and other providers manage a variety of housing resources. Housing resources include:

  • Permanent Housing Vouchers (PSH) through the Continuum of Care grant

  • PSH through Colorado Department of Housing

  • Housing Authority Set-Asides – a portion of vacant affordable housing vouchers set aside for people experiencing homelessness and matched with supportive services from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant

  • Inn Between transitional housing

  • Emergency Solutions Grant Rapid Rehousing

  • Continuum of Care Rapid Rehousing

  • City of Longmont locally funded vouchers

  • City of Boulder locally funded vouchers

  • Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing

  • One-time rental assistance

  • Emergency Housing Vouchers

In addition to the above resources, staff at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless work with clients who have few barriers to identify non-assisted resources.

VI-SPDAT stands for Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool. This tool helps identify who should be recommended for each housing and support intervention, moving the discussion from simply who is eligible for a service intervention to who is eligible and in greatest need of that intervention.

People can lose their supportive housing for a variety of reasons. Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is generally provided through a traditional lease between the landlord and the housing recipient. There are several things that can cause lease infractions that lead to a loss of housing:

  • Often, people who have lived unsheltered for a long time have a hard time returning to traditional housing situations. Their case managers work with them to prepare them for returning to mainstream living, but sometimes it is difficult for them to transition.

  • Because people who have lived unsheltered for a long time find living in an apartment isolating, they sometimes bring in friends from the street to either stay in the unit or to visit. Either having unauthorized persons living in the apartment or the actions of the visitors can jeopardize housing.

  • Sometimes a person’s mental health or substance use disorder can be so debilitating that the person can no longer live independently, even with periodic check-ins from case management. In these instances, case management staff attempts to place the person in skilled nursing units.

  • People with severe mental health or substance use disorders can exhibit behavior that will be in violation of their lease.

  • Infrequently, people in PSH will abandon their units.

Case management is a key component to housing retention. Case managers work with clients to transition to mainstream living, liaise with landlords, identify wrap-around service needs and to provide general counseling.

In addition to case management, the City of Boulder is proposing a slate of peer support, daytime programming and coordinated services to help people retain their housing and improve their quality of life.

There are many challenges in the provision of supportive housing services, including:

  • National growth in homelessness. A growth in homelessness nationally means that federal resources become more limited.

  • Inequities in jurisdictional responses to homelessness. Different communities have different resourcing to address the issue. As people move from place to place, this can prove challenging to the places to which people move.

  • A rapidly growing aging demographic amongst the unhoused population.

  • Increasing levels of meth usage amongst the unhoused community.

  • Near-future saturation of affordable housing development and expensive land costs.

  • Inability to place people with lengthy criminal histories or meth use histories into units.

One of the challenges of placing people experiencing chronic homelessness who also have lengthy criminal histories is that often the criminal histories are barriers to lease application acceptance by landlords. When people who have lengthy criminal histories can’t obtain housing, they remain unhoused and continue to be high utilizers of justice and health systems. Programs to place these clients in housing owned and controlled by a housing provider allows for more leniency in leasing.

Meth usage is the most challenging barrier for stabilizing people experiencing homelessness. Beyond the lack of treatment success rates, the physical and mental health impact of usage, and the high likelihood of criminal behavior to sustain addiction, a history of or active use of meth limits a person’s ability to obtain a lease. Most landlords will not lease to people who use meth because of the public health danger it poses to other people living in the building.

Outreach

Street outreach and engagement are crucial pieces to the continuum of housing. While some outreach efforts can be more focused on housing than other efforts, engagement is key to building rapport and relationships with people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, with the goal that additional services and resources can be identified and provided. Street outreach and engagement also includes providing basic needs like cold-weather supplies, food, resource and housing navigation.

Boulder Targeted Homelessness Engagement and Referral Effort (BTHERE) was a pilot partnership between the City of Boulder and local partners TGTHR and Mental Health Partners. BTHERE’s goal is to connect people to the homeless service system, build relationships with people experiencing unsheltered homelessness, and prevent unsanctioned camping or negative/illegal behavior in public spaces. The BTHERE team follows best practices in harm reduction, trauma-informed care, and motivational interviewing.

The BTHERE program is transitioning to Boulder Shelter for the Homeless (BSH) for future operations. This will allow the BTHERE team to be able to provide Coordinated Entry and Diversion services in the field.

Unsanctioned Camping

There is a national increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, and Boulder is an attractive location; housed and unhoused alike come to Boulder in search of opportunities. Many people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Boulder were experiencing unsheltered homelessness in other places before coming to Boulder.

The correlation between mental illness, substance use and chronic homelessness means that many of the people living in unsanctioned camps may be unable or unwilling to stay in shelters. With the onset of COVID -19, unsheltered homelessness became more visible; many people who spent summers in the mountains or camped on open space relocated to more urban settings. In addition, the capacity of the jail was reduced due to COVID-19 protections, leading to many exiting the jails to the streets.

It is the policy of the City of Boulder to legally and compassionately prevent and disband unsanctioned camps as quickly as possible to avoid harm unsanctioned camp inhabitants, the broader community, as well as to public spaces and natural resources. Removal of an unsanctioned camp is done as a last resort when the occupants choose to not engage with offered sheltering or services and refuse to vacate. Committed to compassion, the city issues multiple soft notices in advance of a formal notice and have dedicated multiple outreach teams, including the Homeless Outreach Team, BTHERE, and resource navigators, to ensure that people experiencing homelessness are aware of and connected to available resources in advance of any cleanup activity.

When unsanctioned camps are taken down, individuals are not sent to a particular location. While the City of Boulder is committed to providing help and information to people who live in unsanctioned camps, people are not forced to utilize shelter or other resources. The cleanup day is the last step of a long process.

Reporting unsanctioned camps through the Inquire Boulder system helps the team prioritize clean-up activities and aids in the tracking of information. Visit Inquire Boulder to report unsanctioned camps.

Resources, particularly outreach, can help mitigate camping but are unlikely to completely eradicate unsanctioned camping. Many of the reasons that people can’t function in shelters or housing are the same reasons that not all campers will participate in interventions such as sanctioned camping. Additionally, there are always new people who come to the community who will camp. For this reason, Boulder attempts to inform people living in unsanctioned camps of their options and works with people to connect to sheltering and housing.

If someone is in crisis or there is a reason to worry about immediate safety, call 911. Dispatchers are trained to determine the right personnel to send to the situation, whether it is the CIRT team or Police/Fire. If there is no life-safety concern, please contact the Boulder Police Department’s non-emergency phone line at 303-441-3333. If you have a relationship with someone experiencing homelessness and it feels safe to do so, you can suggest they connect with Coordinated Entry.

Family Homelessness

Every family’s or individual’s situation is different and there will always be some overlap in needs. However, family homelessness is generally not chronic homelessness. As a result, community responses are predominantly tied to prevention and short-term stabilization efforts rather than the more intensive sheltering and housing approaches often associated with single adults.

Research shows that sheltering can be very traumatic and unhealthy for children. As such, the Family Resource Network members, nonprofits and the governmental entities that serve families in Boulder County, collectively decided to serve family sheltering needs through assisted hotel stays. These hotel stays are limited to the amount of time the nonprofits need to get a family into a stable housing situation.

Through grants and contracts, the City of Boulder provides funding for local organizations, such as the Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA), that address family homelessness through emergency/crisis, transitional, and long-term housing options in addition to support services.

They city’s Family Services programs provide resource and referral services, financial assistance and case management to families experiencing or at-risk of experiencing homelessness through the Family Resource Schools (FRS) program. FRS is a partnership between the City of Boulder and the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) at five elementary schools located within the city limits. The five FRS schools have the highest rates of at-risk families due to extreme poverty or other barriers to family stability and educational achievement.

Keeping Families Housed is a partnership established in 2017 between the City of Boulder and the Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA) in response to increased family homelessness. The program, which links rent assistance to measures focused on the well-being of children, strives to support families’ efforts to improve their situation, achieve and maintain good health, provide educational opportunities and maintain financial stability. Information about this program can be found on EFFA's website. The city provides $313,000 in funding for this program through the Human Services Fund. This has also been augmented through EPRAS funding.

EPRAS – Eviction Prevention and Rental Assistance Services Program – is a City of Boulder program designed to aid people who are at risk of eviction.

COVID-19

The COVID-19 Recovery Center (CRC) was established on March 20, 2020, in response to the effects of COVID-19 within the unhoused community. The CRC was closed on April 29, 2022. It was established as an initiative of Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC), the City of Longmont, Boulder County and the City of Boulder. Costs for the CRC have been covered by CARES Act and ARPA funding.

People experiencing homelessness don’t have places to rest or isolate themselves and therefore can’t follow public health guidelines. People experiencing homelessness are also at far greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading the virus due to congregate living situations and lack of adequate personal protective equipment. Therefore, hospitals could have been overwhelmed by a sick unhoused community. The CRC provided people experiencing homelessness with a place to recover and rest. People who are sick enough to require more intensive care were referred to the hospital.

The CRC operated from March 2020 to June 2021 and from September 2021 to April 2022. During this time, 2,977 beds were used - this includes duplicates, individuals staying multiple nights. An average of 3 beds were used per night and an average of 27 beds were unused each night that the CRC was open.

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Image of CRC historic data outlined above.

Families who have no resources but who need recovery services should contact the Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA) for assistance.

Area shelters have had regular testing and vaccination clinics. In addition, the city partnered with the state to provide several vaccination clinics between May and December 2021. Targeted outreach efforts helped connect people experiencing homelessness with these vaccine clinics.

Homelessness Video Series