The well-being of community members in Boulder County, like communities across the country, has been impacted by an uptick in substance use in recent years.
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health, Boulder County experienced 48 drug-induced deaths in 2019 and 409 deaths over the past ten years. (Citations: 1)
Emergency department visits in Boulder County related to opioid overdose increased by 250% from 2017 to 2020. (Citations: 2)
Boulder County’s violent deaths are frequently linked to substance use disorders (SUDs), including 15% of all homicides. (Citations: 3)
People who become involved with the criminal justice system because of a substance use disorder are more likely to experience homelessness and relapse into substance use following their incarceration. There is a direct correlation between unsanctioned camping and substance use disorders, and once a person has a criminal record, is living outdoors and has an active addiction, it can be incredibly difficult to find housing and treatment options. This often results in new instances of incarceration and extremely challenging mental and behavioral health issues, which ultimately can bring harm to the individuals or other community members.
The City of Boulder, in partnership with Boulder County, is working to implement a solution that aims to address both the substance use and homelessness epidemic in Boulder County.
In 2021, Boulder County’s Community Services Department secured funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance to implement Project Recovery. The project aims to end the cycle of incarceration, support recovery, reduce crime and recidivism, and create a safer community by offering substance use recovery homes throughout Boulder County.
These homes will provide stable housing for clients while they access treatment at a separate facility. Evidence shows people can more successfully address other problems (i.e., employment, mental health, addiction) once they are stably housed. Operation of the homes will be managed by Tribe Recovery Homes, which received a grant from Boulder County to take on this role.
"As a city we have seen the impacts of substance use on our community and on individuals. We know that treatment of substance use is most effective in smaller residential settings with strong treatment support,” said Kurt Firnhaber, Housing and Human Services director. “I am very encouraged by the partnership with Tribe and the experience they will bring to individuals to help address this community challenge.”
The transition to housing can be a difficult adjustment for people exiting homelessness, especially for those with a criminal history or a substance use disorder. Recovery homes with peer support are an important first step on the pathway to permanent housing and recovery.
This cross-jurisdictional Project Recovery will increase public safety by reducing the cycle of homelessness, substance use and incarceration, and the societal costs of substance abuse related to interactions with the criminal justice system. This structure has also been shown to increase clients’ success in maintaining both housing and employment in the future.
The City of Boulder’s role in Project Recovery is to provide resources for the purchase of a property within the City of Boulder. The first home is expected to open in 2023.
Tribe, a leader in home-based recovery and peer support services, incorporates extensively researched best practices to support individuals experiencing active addiction and seeking treatment. Tribe focuses on serving those experiencing homelessness with a desire to engage in a sober environment and those who may be involved in the justice system because of their struggle with substance use.
Here’s what one Tribe graduate had to share about their journey with Tribe:
I had heard about Tribe a few times throughout my addiction and criminal life and never gave it much thought until by accident I ended up in Tribe. I had been released from jail and for the first time I didn’t want to go back to “that” life as I had so many times before. I had an interview at Tribe which I had no idea was my intake day; probably had I known I wouldn’t have gone but today I can say how thankful I am that I took that initial step. I was unsure of who I was as a newly sober woman and what I wanted for my future and for the first time was open to anything new. I won’t say the road was easy but with the support of the staff and my peers in the program Tribe helped guide me to find myself again and now I can honestly say I like myself again and LOVE so many people from Tribe and am grateful every day for the opportunity that I was given not only in the program but after graduating.
To build a foundation for recovery, Tribe integrates robust wrap-around services, high-quality clinical and case management, and peer navigation for each client they serve. Recovery homes provide a structured recovery environment while individuals actively work through their treatment plan and goals. Through this model, clients:
Participate in evidenced-based therapy and engage with multiple case managers and clinicians
Have on-site staff and sobriety monitoring – remaining substance free is a requirement to participate in the program
Are matched with a peer with lived experience, someone who is further along on their recovery journey who has also been involved with the justice system
Learn life skills like keeping a home, making nutritious meals and budgeting
Engage in workforce-readiness training
Are connected with housing and employment after they finish their treatment plan
In addition, Tribe bills these services to Medicaid, which contributes to the sustainability of their model. Learn more about Tribe on their website.
The City of Boulder and Boulder County strive to ensure that the community continues to be a leader in promoting physical, mental and social well-being for all. By partnering with Tribe, Boulder is bringing this crucial service to those who don’t have private insurance or the resources to cover the cost of other home-based recovery programs.
"We have similar sober living programs in Boulder, but the existing services are generally geared toward individuals with a higher socioeconomic status,” shared Heidi Grove, Homeless Solutions for Boulder County systems manager. “Our partnership with Tribe makes these services more accessible and we believe this will have a positive impact on our community. Another benefit of working with Tribe is that they not only strive to build community within their homes but also place a focus on being a good neighbor.”
This program will establish three recovery homes across Boulder County over the course of three years to serve those being diverted or released from detention. The first home will be within Boulder city limits. The goal for each home is to have three to four bedrooms and two bathrooms, with a capacity to house six to eight clients at a time.
Clients typically transition out of homes within four to five months, resulting in a projected 36 clients served per year per house. This gives Project Recovery the potential to serve hundreds of individuals with justice-system involvement over three years.
You can learn more about Project Recovery on the county’s website and find answers to city-specific frequently asked questions on the city’s website.
- CDPHE, Vital Statistics Program. Retrieved from Vital Statistics Program | Department of Public Health & Environment (colorado.gov)
- Boulder County Public Health (2021). Mental health and substance use during COVID-19. Retrieved from Improving Child Health in Boulder County
- Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (2019). Colorado Violent Death Reporting System: HSR 16 Boulder and Broomfield. Retrieved from Colorado Violent Death Reporting System | Department of Public Health & Environment