Boulder Rights Watch has submitted recommendations to Boulder City Council that it believes will greatly help the city’s homeless community. The group, which formed in response to Boulder’s decision to reinstate jail time for minor, municipal offenses committed by homeless people in certain parts of town where such underprivileged residents are considered less desirable, provided council with a 42-page action plan to be considered at its upcoming August 26 planning session.
In a written statement that accompanied the release of the plan, Boulder Rights Watch spokesperson Joy Redstone noted, “Boulder Rights Watch is excited about the upcoming council meeting at which the Council will finally have the opportunity to fully discuss these ideas. With the Action Plan, we have tried to provide substantial detail and background information so that Council can have a meaningful discussion and make the critical move from talk to action.”
The action plan presented to council contains the following seven suggestions (the description of each action item has been provided by the organization).
1. Establish a daytime storage center for use of homeless community members. This is important because the need to constantly carry heavy backpacks containing all their possessions sets homeless people apart from other members of the community and severely limits their ability to improve their life circumstances.
2. Create a year-round day center. Homeless people struggle to find appropriate places to be during the day and the Bridge House has extremely limited space. A larger day center will allow more of the un-housed to access services and put their lives on a productive path. Other sectors of the community will benefit when public places, like the library, no longer have to serve as de facto day shelters.
3. Address housing for homeless people as part of the City’s comprehensive housing strategy. Fundamentally, homeless issues are not about law enforcement, the business cli mate or aesthetics. They are, at base, about supplying housing options for our poorest neighbors. Two specific suggestions are presented for consideration, including one for the use of “tiny houses.”
4. Create year-round homeless sheltering capacity. The absence of adequate summer shelter has tragic implications for those without housing and is ultimately very expensive for the general community.
5. Implement public education to assist the general public to better understand their homeless neighbors. There is much inaccurate information circulating within the community about homeless people. A good public education program could change existing inaccurate stereotypes about people experiencing homelessness.
6. Utilize two approaches to address the relationships between police officers and the homeless. One approach would add a new Community Response Team resource to attempt to resolve conflict situations in the community. The other would increase the use of community policing so that unnecessary antagonism between homeless residents and the police can be avoided.
7. Revise the police department professional standards review panel. With the recent increased emphasis on criminal enforcement with regard to homeless community members, new stresses have arisen between the police and our poorest residents. This suggestion would increase the transparency and accountability of police officers through the use of a more robust police review panel.
The full 42-page plan goes on to explain the recommendations in some detail, provide specific examples of the negative consequences of Boulder’s current policy and to point to programs in other cities that are working.
On August 15, a memorial was held in downtown Boulder for the nine members of the homeless community who have died in the city so far this year. Five of nine who died were living outside on the streets where camping, which in Boulder is defined as even being covered by a blanket, is now punishable by jailtime.