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A Look at Boulder’s Housing-First Homelessness Strategy


People in crisis need stable and secure housing to successfully face other challenges in life.

This is the principle that informs the data-driven strategy the City of Boulder has taken to address homelessness in our community. In 2017, Boulder began to take a holistic approach to help assess the needs of people in crisis, match them with resources and keep track of their progress.

The city’s Housing and Human Services Department (HHS), which manages this strategy, believes that all Boulder community members deserve a chance to thrive. We can accomplish this by building relationships with those we serve, fostering collaborative partnerships, and addressing systemic inequities while investing in and implementing effective, sustainable, and solution-based policies and programs.

1. Expand Pathways to Permanent Housing and Retention

The City of Boulder aims to have 15% of all housing in the city deeded as permanently affordable. As of June, 2020, Boulder has 3,898 permanently affordable homes — more than half way to meeting our goal. Other efforts to reach this goal include:

  • Since 2017, the City of Boulder and its partners have secured over 200 Permanently Supportive Housing (PSH) vouchers to house qualified individuals. These vouchers cover rent and supportive services such as for medical issues, mental health counseling or help in overcoming an addiction.
  • HHS’s Community Mediation program has enhanced their conflict resolution services for landlords and tenants facing potential eviction. Collectively, CMS has increased the resolution rate of these typically difficult cases from 64% to 75%, thanks to increased outreach and better integration with the justice system.

2. Expand Access to Programs and Services to Reduce or Prevent Homelessness

Financial support for rent or other household expenses can save people from missing a rent payment or becoming unhoused. The city has helped to fund the Keep Families Housed program through the Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA), which has expanded due to COVID-19. This program assists families in need by providing rental assistance, financial stability education and enrollment in eligible benefits.

3. Support an Efficient and Effective Services System Based on Best Practices and Data Driven Results

Four components of the adult homelessness services system help determine an individual’s needs:

  1. Coordinated Entry: This is the starting point for people seeking services. Individuals are screened and matched with housing and services.
  2. Diversion: This program provides assistance to encourage people to avoid entering into long-term homelessness. This may mean reconnecting people with their support systems or paying small bills to help someone reach their goal.
  3. Navigation: Some community members can become self-sustaining with less help. Navigation involves assisting people with creative housing solutions, connection to long-term programs such as Ready to Work, entry into treatment programs, or reunification with family or friends.
  4. Housing-Focused Shelter: This program provides longer-term sheltering and housing placement for those with moderate-to-high needs. These individuals have typically been experiencing homelessness for a long period of time and have disabilities that are barriers to housing. Clients can access a reserved, ongoing bed while working on a permanent housing plan.

4. Support access to a continuum of basic services as part of a pathway to self-sufficiency and stability

Coordination of community and housing services increases positive outcomes. HSBC investigates and implements service improvements and creative housing options that help people with complex and varying needs in the most effective manner possible.

5. Support access to public information about homelessness and community solutions

In addition to publishing information about the system and the various programs, data is published to a data dashboard that help to visualize the successes and challenges of the system. This data enables the public to have access to robust performance metrics and evaluate the system successes and trends objectively.

6. Create public spaces that are welcoming and safe for residents and visitors

 The Boulder Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team and the Boulder Municipal Court Navigator work to inform and encourage individuals to participate in services and reduce the consequences of being unsheltered. In late 2020 Boulder also launched Boulder Targeted Engagement and Referral Effort (BTHERE) to:

  • Connect people to the homeless service system.
  • Educate people on available resources.
  • Discourage camping, negative, or illegal behavior in public spaces.

This effort is a collaboration between the City of Boulder and local partners Attention Homes and Mental Health Partners. This team will have a person with lived experience, and outreach and resource specialist and a mental health professional.