City of Boulder officials want more money to clear encampments of homeless people. Credit: John Herrick

A group of Boulder-based nonprofits sent a letter to city officials on Monday proposing a new day and nighttime shelter that would provide housing and services to homeless residents. 

The shelter would cost about $1.4 million per year to operate and serve up to 100 people a day. It would provide meals, showers, lockers and access to legal services and health care resources, according to the proposal.  

It remains unclear where it could be located. 

In addition to city staff, the letter was sent to the Boulder City Council.  Most councilmembers have said recently they are interested in increasing the number of shelter beds in the city. Boulder’s main shelter, the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, has turned away dozens of people this winter due to capacity issues. 

Adding another shelter to the system would mark a major financial investment in homelessness services. And in recent years, the city’s homeless policy has prioritized getting people housing vouchers that subsidize housing costs. If built, the new shelter would aim to serve people whom the city’s housing-first program has not been able to reach. 

Unlike the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, which is open from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. most days, the new proposed facility would be open 24 hours per day. 

The shelter would include outdoor space for people to sleep in their cars or pitch a tent. Its governing philosophy would be to reduce as many barriers as possible for people to access the city’s homelessness resources. 

“We have outlined a healthy direction for the city with respect to its unhoused residents and the care that they are due,” said Bill Sweeney, a longtime advocate for homelessness services who now serves on the board of Colorado Safe Parking Initiative.

In addition to Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, the nonprofits signing on to the letter include TGTHR, which provides housing to young adults; Bridge House, which organizes meals and work programs; Feet Forward, which feeds people and provides a wide range of services every Tuesday afternoon at the Boulder Bandshell; Boulder Safe Camping Initiative, which advocates for supervised public camping; and Mother House, which operates a shelter for people who identify as women, transgender or nonbinary, and their children.  

The city’s response

The service providers sent the letter detailing the new shelter proposal to the Boulder City Council, the city manager and the city’s Department of Housing and Human Services. 

They are seeking a meeting to discuss the proposal, they said. 

The request comes after service providers did not respond to a formal solicitation released last week from city staff for ideas on creating a new shelter during the winter months. 

The directors of the nonprofits instead sent their letter directly to the Boulder City Council, where several members were elected last November after campaigning to increase homelessness services. 

Kurt Firnhaber, the director of Housing and Human Services, said in an interview he’s not sure whether the proposed shelter is necessary. He and other city staff have repeatedly said the city should prioritize spending money on helping people get into a home rather than expanding the number of shelter beds in the city. Federal funding for homelessness, for one, has largely shifted to housing-first solutions and not shelters, he has said. 

“If it becomes a place that allows people to remain homeless and live on the streets successfully, then I’m not sure it’s accomplishing what the community would want to see,” Firnhaber said of the proposal. 

The price tag for the proposed shelter does not include the cost of acquiring or retrofitting a building for the shelter. Service providers said they want the city to help come up with the money and the space to set up the shelter. 

But Firnhaber said he’s not aware of any city-owned properties that would be able to sleep up to 100 people. 

“I’m well aware of the city properties that the city owns. We’ve looked at this many times before,” Firnhaber said. 

The Boulder City Council is expected to discuss its homelessness strategy at its upcoming retreat on Jan. 21-22.

Read the full proposal:

John Herrick

John Herrick reports on housing, climate, health and local government for Boulder Reporting Lab. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness.