Residents gathered at the Bandshell in downtown Boulder on Tuesday to remember the 55 people who have lived outside in Boulder and who have died this year. The memorial comes as temperatures are expected to dip to dangerous lows this week. Credit: John Herrick

Update: This story was updated on Dec. 21 at 4:10 p.m. with information on the city’s plan to provide shuttles form the homeless shelter in North Boulder and the city’s downtown to the East Boulder Community Center.

The City of Boulder is turning the East Boulder Community Center into a temporary emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness in response to an Arctic cold front expected to send temperatures well below zero degrees Fahrenheit in the coming days. 

The shelter will be open and managed by the Red Cross from Wednesday afternoon through Saturday morning, according to Kurt Firnhaber, the city’s director of Housing and Human Services. 

Firnhaber said the East Boulder Community Center should be able to sleep about 50 people. The city’s largest adult homeless shelter — the nonprofit-run Boulder Shelter for the Homeless  — is also moving people into hotel rooms and has built additional bunk beds to sleep more people, according to a spokesperson. 

“We are pretty concerned,” Firnhaber told Boulder Reporting Lab on Tuesday. “It’s definitely dangerous weather that’s coming through this week. We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure everyone has a place to stay.” 

Temperatures are expected to plummet to minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit tonight, a near-record low capable of causing frostbite in a matter of minutes. Boulder County Public Health issued a health advisory on Tuesday due to “dangerously cold temperatures.”

The decision to open a temporary shelter comes as the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless has had to turn people away this month due to limited bed space. On a normal night, the shelter has 160 beds. 

The city has recorded more turnaways so far this month than in the entire month of December last year, when the shelter had fewer available beds in part due to Covid-19 restrictions. One night this month, 17 people showed up to the North Boulder facility and were turned away at the door because it was full, according to city data.

In mid-November, shelter staff moved more than 30 people who sleep there longer term into hotel beds, in an effort to free up beds this winter. Due to the cold front moving in this week, the shelter plans to get another 10 hotel beds. It plans to add another 20 beds inside the shelter, according to a spokesperson. This will bring its total capacity to more than 220. 

Other shelters in the city serve young people and women, transgender or nonbinary people. 

The Boulder Shelter for the Homeless will remain open all day on Thursday and Friday. (The shelter is closed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., unless daytime highs are forecast to be 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below, or at least six inches of snow is expected.)

The East Boulder Community Center is located at 5660 Sioux Dr. The city said it will provide free shuttles from the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless and several downtown locations — including the downtown bus station on Walnut and 14th — to the East Boulder Community Center on Wednesday, between 2 and 10 p.m. The shuttles will operate every 30 to 45 minutes, according to the city’s website.

A mutual aid group is calling on residents to distribute hand warmers, blankets, tents, sleeping bags and cups of coffee to people they see sleeping outside.

Firnhaber said officials have also been walking around encampments and notifying people sleeping outside of the cold weather. 

City officials said the East Boulder Community Center will be open to anyone. They are encouraging people who cannot access the city’s shelters — due to rule violations or other reasons — to stay at the center, which will be open 24 hours per day. The city said beds, blankets and food will be available. Well-behaved pets are welcome.

People who have questions about how to access the North Boulder shelter can contact the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless at 303-442-4646. For questions about other homelessness services, you can contact Megan Newton, the city’s homelessness policy adviser, at 303-877-2906.

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.

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