The City of Boulder is planning to open a center where homeless people can go during the day to access basic amenities and services to help them get housing. Credit: John Herrick

In the coming weeks, City of Boulder officials will begin meeting with residents and businesses near a proposed site for a drop-in services center for homeless people. The city plans to open the center as soon as this year in a one-story office building at 1844 Folsom Street. 

The plan comes after the Boulder City Council made it one of its priorities to create a place where homeless people could go during the day. The city’s largest shelter in North Boulder is closed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except under certain weather conditions. The hope is that people would be able to access a range of to-be-decided basic amenities — showers, lockers, mailboxes, laundry and other necessities of daily life. People may also receive help signing up for public benefits, obtaining identification, finding peer support, and, ultimately, getting housing. 

As anticipated by the city, some neighbors are sounding alarms. 

Some residents of the Horizon West condominiums, located next door, have emailed city councilmembers urging them to find someplace else. Barbara Wilson, owner of Christina’s Luxuries, a women’s clothing store, said homeless people are already “deterring customers from coming around and challenging my employee safety” and that the location is “not appropriate.” Melissa Fathman, the executive director of the Dairy Arts Center, said the venue already deals with theft, vandalism, trespassing and litter. 

“I do believe in helping people,” Fathman told Boulder Reporting Lab in an email. “At the same time, I wonder why we don’t help one group get back on their feet while also being able to protect others from harm.”

Wherever the center ends up, she said, there needs to be a “plan to support and maintain a peaceful environment in the surrounding areas. Without this effort, over time people will move away, close up shop, and the fabric of our community will continue to unravel.” 

The Boulder Chamber, Downtown Boulder Partnership and Visit Boulder released a policy statement last week that includes supporting a day center for homeless people. But the groups haven’t taken a formal position on the Folsom Street location. The Boulder Chamber is planning to host a meeting with city officials and businesses to discuss the center. 

The city is planning to host a “good neighbor meeting” with neighbors of the proposed day services center. Credit: John Herrick

The talks with neighbors and nearby businesses will likely shape what kinds of services the center provides, and what kinds of restrictions are imposed for people to get in. The discussion could also help alleviate concerns of neighbors, possibly averting formal complaints, lawsuits and other forms of opposition that could jeopardize the center’s opening this year. 

“We definitely want to listen to what those concerns are and see if there are things that we can do through the operations of this center that will minimize those impacts,” Kurt Firnhaber, the city’s director of Housing and Human Services, told Boulder Reporting Lab. “What I hope it doesn’t turn into is more of a conversation of, ‘this shouldn’t be here.’” 

City officials have reviewed more than a dozen locations: an industrial building on Mapleton Ave., an office building near Tantra Lakes, a three-story remodel on Spruce Street, the former Full Cycle bike shop on Pearl Street. Many were either too expensive, too far from downtown or bus stops, or too close to schools, according to city officials

The Folsom Street location is about a block away from the HOP bus route. The property owner, Element Properties, a Boulder-based real estate development company, is interested in leasing the building to the city, according to city officials. The city is budgeting $1.2 million to operate the center. The likely operator, the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization, is still negotiating a potential agreement with the city.

The city eventually wants to build 50 units of deed-restricted, permanently affordable apartments above the center. This would allow the city to take advantage of federal tax credits and effectively subsidize renovations at the day center, according to Firnhaber. The development is estimated to cost about $10 million, according to a recent city staff memo. During the construction, the day center would be temporarily relocated to a to-be-decided location. 

Under city code, officials are required to host a “good neighbor meeting” with surrounding business owners and residents. City code does not give neighbors power to approve the project, however. But they could be influential in how it operates. 

In 2017, for instance, the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless sought to update its management plan to allow some residents to stay during the daytime hours and to offer morning services that included walk-up breakfast, laundry, and access to showers. After meeting with neighbors, it nixed the idea for morning services and proposed more limited daytime use. City staff later said opening the shelter during the day would “significantly increase operating and staffing costs.” In the end, the shelter decided to remain closed during the day. 

It remains unclear how and whether the Boulder City Council will weigh in on the project. Councilmembers are not required under city code to approve the center’s operations plan, but they will likely want to provide feedback. During a meeting this month, several councilmembers who have supported the day center suggested that city officials take the concerns of neighbors seriously. 

“I think we need to be pretty empathetic to people’s fears,” Councilmember Rachel Friend said. “I think we have some trust building to do. And I can understand why people are worried.” 

Cathy Alderman, chief communications and public policy officer for Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, said it can be hard to push back against opposition to homelessness services based on “fear and stigma.” But, Alderman said, providing people a stable place to access resources means they are more likely to get off the streets.

“That is a good thing and everyone deserves a chance,” she said.

Firnhaber said city officials are planning to update the city council on its broader plans for homelessness in September 2023.

John Herrick is senior reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness. Email:

Join the Conversation


  1. Thanks for reporting on the issue of the choice of 1844 Folsom Street for the Homeless Day Center. As a resident of Horizon West, I have thought long and hard about this since it was announced without any input from us and the area. The review of the 14 sites did not take into account the effects on the surrounding businesses, residents, Dairy Center, restaurants, and professional offices and the added stress on the police. There are no solutions to keeping the area safe. It is clear that measures to protect the neighborhood have not been well thought out. Kurt Firhhaber’s suggestions of not letting individuals use the centers if they are camped in the area and asking them to be respectful, are weak and unenforceable and may make matters worse. I was called a NIMBY on Nextdoor for my comments about the situation. If caring for my friends and the vibrant neighborhood I live in, then I will proudly accept the designation.

    1. Run well, similar offerings reduce crime. It is important that it’s run well, and that it’s safe for neighbors, you’re right. A day shelter (I wish the existing shelter could operate during the day, too, where folks already are) will take the burden off our dear library (helping families, particularly), rec centers. It’s a public good and if done right should help all of Boulder, not fray the social fabric.

      But you have a right to know that it will be done well.

    2. Thank you for the reporting on this issue. I feel for the Dairy Center and the businesses that will lose customers, nearby residents who will be wary of even going outside, safety concerns that will overwhelm the police. Kurt thought it would be too much time & trouble to involve neighbors but is now obligated to fulfill the Good Neighbor Agreement that blew up when the Pine Street facility opened. That facility has people bringing in drugs and alcohol every day and simply refused to follow the rules. Can anyone imagine that this facility would be different?

  2. Until people realize that the homeless are no different than YOU (in different circumstances) than YOU will continue to bicker and fight about where to put “them.”
    This, my friends, is a waste of energy. “These” people are our neighbors and if you are made of any fabric of faith than “these” people are in fact our brothers and sisters. WE should treat them the way WE would want to be treated, IF our circumstances were different. Because circumstances DO change, and I hope when you look for help YOU see the eyes of compassion not judgement staring back at YOU. You have the power to make a choice, make the one where YOU are not separate from “them” but, in fact, are THEM.

  3. The city’s decision to have a homeless center on Folsom is a step in the right direction. As we all know as citizens the easiest comment to make is not in my neighborhood! With due reason this is expected. It looks like this plan is going through. While we all recognize that Boulder has a “homeless” problem, we as concerned citizens need to take the next step, and this appears to be it. What SHOULD NOT BE TOLERATED is complacency. The city of Boulder has an obligation to enforce the law especially around this proposed facility. The BPD and city officials must uphold the law and not let the area around Folsom become crime ridden or an eyesore to its surrounding neighbors.

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