Boulder homeless issues

By Darren O’Connor

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A homeless woman sits on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall.
Joel Dyer | Boulder Weekly

The beauty of Boulder, nestled in the Foothills and dominated by the Flatirons, is a metro area gem that attracts a great number of visitors and would be residents wishing to enjoy its charms. Its reputation as an idyllic, liberal city, however, was recently tainted by University of Denver Law School’s report, Too High A Price: What Criminalizing Homelessness Costs Colorado.

Boulder was found to issue citations for camping at more than twice the rate of Fort Collins, and 19 times that of Colorado Springs — the cities that issue the greatest number of camping citations after Boulder. Eighty-seven percent of those receiving such citations in Boulder identified as homeless, and 84 percent of the citations were only for camping.

While City Councilmembers would be at legal risk if they admitted camping and other laws primarily target unhoused people, one is reminded of Anatole France’s quote, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”

Ironically, Boulder laws require pet owners provide, “enclosed structure sufficient to protect the animal from wind, rain, snow, or sun,” yet camping is against the law and prohibits in part using shelter. In the ordinance, shelter is defined such that it “includes, without limitation, any cover or protection from the elements other than clothing.” Thus, a homeless person with a pet must both provide it shelter against the elements and avoid use for themselves of any such protection, lest they be ticketed.

In contrast to the camping ordinance language, City Attorney Tom Carr recently stated, “Our camping ordinance doesn’t ban shelter, it doesn’t ban blankets. It is a reasonable and moderate response to prohibit camping on public property.” As a member of the homeless advocacy group Boulder Rights Watch, I requested a clarification from Carr on the disparity between his statement and the ordinance, but my request went unanswered.

Boulder officials and members of the community recently traveled to Portland, Oregon, where Mayor Hales spoke to them decrying as inhumane having the police tell people, “You can’t pitch a tent here.” Returning from the trip, where they visited Eugene Oregon’s Opportunity Village, Council Member Aaron Brockett stated, “I saw new ways to work on problems that we haven’t been pursuing so far.”

Others on the trip, notably Councilmembers Shoemaker and Appelbaum (who did not visit Opportunity Village), referred to Boulder’s response to homelessness (shelters and overflow shelters that address a fraction of the unhoused that executive director of the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless estimated at 1,500 people), as “a much better product.” Those on Council who appear supportive of not criminalizing homelessness through its camping law have received recent support for such a move, with ACLU of Colorado’s Denise Maes and Mark Silverstein speaking at city council meetings.
I have also challenged the City with videos showing Officer Lord, questioning a man near the library where unhoused people congregate, for holding an unlit cigarette, stating on camera that, “It’s not us that just comes down here willy-nilly, we come down here because the City Manager has asked us,” going on to say, “They can leave the city of Boulder, they can leave the state of Colorado, they can leave the country if they want to.”

Boulder must work on both their laws and how police enforce them; otherwise they must admit that its beauty, its open space, and even its streets are only open to the wealthy.
Darren O’Connor has lived in Boulder since 1994, where he received his masters degree in electrical engineering and is a social justice advocate with groups including Boulder Rights Watch, Denver Homeless Out Loud and Boulder Coalition and Alliance on Race.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.

  • Gropple

    There are too many homeless people here, and that is not up for debate. For the most part these are not people disenfranchised by the city of Boulder, or even the state of Colorado. They come outside the area for the generosity and tolerance of its citizens and the services provided for them. They are definitely free riding(i mean that in the economic sense), and as a citizen who is unable to use portions of parks, has homeless going through my garbage on a daily basis, camping in my neighborhood, it has become unacceptable. I think that we need to change the camping ordinance (if it is not already so) such that they can camp up in the mountains on county land, or national forest, but ban, and heavily enforce camping in the parks, streets, and residential neighborhoods of the city. Why do the homeless need to be sleeping in the city proper? so its more convenient for them to panhandle? Homeless people are constantly breaking laws (minor ones like camping), but the police dont do anything because there is no sense to arrest and charge someone who could never pay the penalty, why should we as a city feel that we need to accommodate these people?

    • enufw_thebs

      More than half are from Boulder, and yeah, they’re ticketing them, regularly. Tickets are then unpaid because if you’re broke pretty much nothing is affordable, so they end up in jail, which costs the city even more. They get out of jail, get ticketed and the cycle continues. Like it or not, until there is truly affordable housing and the programs needed to go with them they will cycle back through the system back to your neighborhood and your garbage cans. If I were you, I’d be asking the city when they plan to build more housing for the homeless because housing is way cheaper for the city than jailing these non-violent offenders over an unpaid $100 fine, and the jail/ticket cycle doesn’t solve a damn thing. http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_26393656/survey-more-than-half-boulders-homeless-lived-here

      • Gropple

        More than half sounds unbelievable. You are telling me that they were born in Boulder, lived and worked in Boulder, and then for one reason or another became homeless? More than half of our homeless were not homeless in Boulder at some point? Im guessing that is not the case. Or are you just saying they were homeless before they came to boulder, and have just stayed here for a long time.

        • enufw_thebs

          No, I’m saying from the data gathered during the Point-in-time census shows that more than half list Boulder or Boulder County as home prior to becoming homeless.

    • Coskibum

      Groppie I’m so sorry that you have to look at homeless people. That must be very painful. They should know the city boundaries and stay out of your view.

      I’m really intrigued, before you hit the send button, did you take a step back?

      Boulder writes more tickets than anywhere else in Colorado. Have you heard of Google? This a link, please take the time to learn… http://www.law.du.edu/documents/homeless-advocacy-policy-project/2-16-16-Final-Report.pdf

      • Gropple

        Do you have homeless people going through your trash, hanging out in your yard, leaving trash in your yard? How often do you see transients to drugged up to even walk? Do you have drugged up homeless camps set up in your local park, preventing kids from playing on play structures, getting in drunken fights, yelling profanities, all things I can see and hear from my front porch, often daily. I know it is a difficult problem, and we need a humane solution, and that arresting or ticketing means nothing to them. I know they need help, but I am tired of the City let them do whatever they want, and enabling their homelessness.

        • Coskibum

          “Do you have homeless people going through your trash, hanging out in your yard, leaving trash in your yard?”

          You must be very popular to have so many homeless hang around your property. I take them into my house and let them sleep, shower and serve a good meal to them, you know like a “Humane Solution”. I get to know them, they’re people just like you and I.

          “I know they need help, but I am tired of the City let them do whatever they want, and enabling their homelessness.”

          So we must control others to conform to your way of thinking? Sorry you can’t take away their rights. You know like the next door neighborer’s are loud, throw rowdy parties – All perfectly legal.

          I agree that our City Leaders have dropped the proverbial ball in helping these folk out. Hell they have dropped the ball regards to affordable housing.

          Instead of complaining so much, become part of the solution. Hyperbole never gets solutions. Take a second to pause and look at your statements before you press the send button.

    • Darren O’Connor

      As pointed out in the article, we ticket more people by far than any other city in the state, so your wish has already come true. Look how great it works to keep people from the required survival act of sleeping. It doesn’t, precisely because it’s a required act. And it’s already legal to sleep in the areas you mention, so, again, your wish is realized. As to why folks would want to sleep in the city, I think you may have a hard time realizing just how difficult it is to live on the streets. Even the resource of transportation to the areas you mention are beyond most people who are unhoused.

  • Veronica Randall

    You know what? It doesn’t help that DENVER just did their homeless sweep a few months ago and also lacks building ANOTHER shelter for the homeless. Doesn’t surprise me they migrate to Boulder when options are limited! The Boulder shelter can only hold so much, but the way they go about helping these people on the streets is far more beneficial for the persons well-being and their future. They actually give these people the resources they need to become working and housed individuals. Look at the numbers of families that are moving to Colorado. Now think about the about of people hitchhiking to get here on top of that. We obviously care more HERE than where they’re originally from to help people have a purpose in their lives by helping get the needed resources for them to live life in peace. Boulder County community needs to start pitching in better ideas together if we want to limit this issue. Denver especially needs a more diverse plan! You tell people they can’t sleep and what does that lead those individual to do? Think about it!

  • s k

    Some type of routine cleanup also needs to be discussed. The beauty gets messed
    with by a lot of dirty clothes and baggage…

    • KeepBoulderBoulder

      Darren should be out there daily cleaning it up. Lots of human waste and needles hidden (and not so hidden) along the creek path.
      Sorry, but our Parks are not Campgrounds. There are no facilities, no security and it is in a Flash Flood zone.

  • La La Amen

    I live in Boulder. I had the worst nightmare of my life happen to me and now I am homeless. I’m in Texas visiting my daughter who just had her baby. She took my pain away for about a month. I will be back in about 8 days and I don’t know where I am going to stay. My car has been sold, which was my home after I got evicted from my apt. I was a caretaker for my Mom and she is gone now. I am on disability and can’t get a job if I can’t take a shower and be ready in the morning to go to work. I just need a chance. I’ve been to the Our Center and they can only give you clothes and the shelter never has any beds left. It is awful in there. I choose to stay in my car. I have never been homeless before and I wonder how many people are like me out here. Scared and not knowing what to do next. If someone just gave me a chance in their home, like @Coskibum did for people, I probably could have made a go of it. When I get back I will only be there for a week or so and I hope someone will reach out to me. I used to sleep in my car at night, scared to death that a police officer was going to knock at my window to tell me that I was loitering, then impounding my car, my home. I hope that any other homeless people, like myself, that don’t know the mountains, find a way to sleep at night without getting ticketed. I’m not on drugs or alcohol, just a regular person who is lost right now. The law needs to be looked at! Peace, love and light! <3

  • Alicia Larson

    I just looked at the Boulder City’s sex offender list. 41 out of 43 violent sex offenders registered here are homeless. They get around being homeless registering as living in places like “under the bridge” or “in the park by the library”, or “in my car somewhere by Broadway and Arapahor” Basically the homeless sex offenders in Boulder live in our parks and on our bike paths. It’s unconscionable that our city would allow a registered violent sex offender to register as living on public land illegally. The police know who is living in our children’s parks. Most Boulder residents don’t.

  • Alicia Larson

    I just looked at the Boulder City’s sex offender list. 41 out of 43 violent sex offenders registered here are homeless. They get around being homeless registering as living in places such as, “under the bridge” or “in the park by the library”, or “in my car somewhere by Broadway and Arapahoe” Basically the homeless sex offenders in Boulder live in our parks and on our bike paths. It’s unconscionable that our city would allow a registered violent sex offender to register as living on public land illegally. The police know who is living in our children’s parks. Most Boulder residents don’t.