Activists want to start new homeless shelter


There is an Army Reserve building on Table Mesa Drive that has long sat empty, and a couple of local activists would like to put it to good use for some of Boulder’s less fortunate.

Tom Cummins, a local Occupy Boulder activist, wants to use the long-abandoned facility known as “The Armory” between Tantra Drive and South 46th Street as a homeless shelter until its long-term development plans come to fruition.

The property was in the spotlight in 2009 as a graffiti-tagged eyesore that was to be converted into a controversial 41-unit residential development, but it has languished since the U.S. Army Reserves vacated it years ago.

Cummins says he was in talks with city officials about using the building as a homeless shelter, but now a sign in front of the property shows that it is slated to become an assisted living facility. Still, Cummins is not holding his breath, since he says that project is not expected to get under way until 2016. In the interim, Cummins and his partner in Americans 4 Social Justice, Mike Coccoli, have a vision for the building.

It would not be like the Boulder Homeless Shelter, with case managers and “well-paid staff,” Cummins says. “We’re talking me and a couple of security guards and Mike.”

Those who want to stay at the shelter would have to take on chores to help take care of it, Cummins explains, and after being there a month, residents will have to pay the shelter a dollar a day. Then, when they leave, he says, they will get all of their money back as a startup fund for their new life.

Cummins plans to ask local churches and synagogues for assistance as well, perhaps allowing religious organizations to adopt and furnish rooms in the 15,000-square-foot facility.

It doesn’t have to cost much to outfit a place, he says, noting that Coccoli recently helped a homeless veteran furnish an apartment for 75 cents, thanks to donations and Dumpster-diving.

“Who’s better at Dumpster-diving than homeless people?” he asks.

Cummins envisions the shelter being open 24-7, 365 days a year, unlike the Boulder Homeless Shelter, in an effort to give food and shelter to the estimated 600 homeless people in the city who can’t be accommodated by the existing shelter and the church-based warming centers.

What’s more, he and Coccoli plan to make good use of the property’s 4.5 acres, planting a large organic garden and using its harvest not only for food served at the shelter, but to raise money at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market. In addition to relying on grant support, Cummins suggests that shelter residents with artistic talent could sell crafts at the farmers’ market, devoting a percentage of the proceeds to shelter operational costs.

Coccoli, who specializes in helping homeless veterans, says he is open to considering other vacant buildings for the shelter if the Armory doesn’t work out. The point is to provide the homeless with a safe place where they can store their belongings without having to worry about having them stolen, providing them with enough security to not have to worry about where they are going to sleep or what they are going to eat.

Coccoli points out that it’s hard enough to find a job in this economy even when you do have food, a home, a computer, a telephone.

At the holidays, Cummins says, it’s important to remember that most homeless people don’t fit the shaggy, disheveled stereotype. They look like you and me. He cites a former IBM employee who showed up at a recent forum and acknowledged that he had been homeless for two weeks.

“If you look into his eyes, he looks scared to death,” Cummins says. “Not everybody has family to turn to, or friends to turn to. The camping ban is not hurting Occupy Boulder. It is hurting the homeless.”

Cummins and Coccoli can be reached at a4sj123 (at), and contributions can be sent to A4SJ, P.O. Box 17356, Boulder, CO 80308.