City of Boulder officials said they are looking for a new location to create a day services center for homeless people after the property owner of the previously selected location at 1844 Folsom Street pulled out of an informal agreement.
The Boulder City Council has made it one of its priorities to create a daytime facility for homeless people, as the city’s largest shelter in North Boulder is closed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except in certain weather conditions. In addition to providing homeless people a warm place to go during the day, the center is likely to include services that make it easier to get housing, such as obtaining identification or signing up for social security or disability insurance.
The tentative deal with the property owner — which the city announced in April 2023 — was a major step toward getting such a center up and running ahead of the winter season. The tentative agreement also included building 50 permanently affordable apartments above the day services center.
Now that the agreement has fallen through, the city must renew its search for a location in a city where, historically, neighboring residents and businesses have often been opposed to such projects serving homeless people.
“I’m still hopeful that we will be able to pull it off this winter season,” Kurt Firnhaber, the city’s director of Housing and Human Services, told Boulder Reporting Lab. “We certainly haven’t given up.”
The proposal to locate the center at 1844 Folsom Street quickly generated pushback from residents at Horizon West, a residential community next door, and nearby business owners, who cited the potential for increased theft, vandalism, trespassing and litter. The Boulder Chamber released a policy statement earlier this year that included supporting a day center. But the group did not take a formal position on the Folsom Street location.
It is unclear why the property owner, Element Properties, a Boulder-based real estate development company, decided against allowing the project on its property. The company did not return several requests for an interview from Boulder Reporting Lab.
Element Properties is currently building a permanently affordable housing project near Boulder Junction designed for people exiting homelessness. In 2020, the city paid $3 million to acquire the property for the project.
Element Properties purchased the Folsom Street building in 2021 for $5.3 million, according to Boulder County property records. It is being used for office space.
Before settling on the 1844 Folsom Street location, the city reviewed more than a dozen other properties, all of which were unsuitable for one reason or another. Many were either too expensive, too far from downtown or bus stops, or too close to schools, according to city officials.
In an effort to secure the Folsom Street location, Firnhaber said the city offered to purchase the property for $6.5 million. Element Properties declined the offer, he said.
Finding a location for the day center is just one of several potential obstacles to getting one running.
Under city code, officials must host a “good neighbor meeting” with surrounding business owners and residents when creating homeless shelters and certain bars and restaurants. City code does not grant neighbors the power to approve such projects, but they have had an influential role in the past.
In 2017, for instance, the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, a nonprofit organization that operates the city’s main nighttime shelter in North Boulder, wanted to allow some people to stay during the day, as well as offer morning services, such as breakfast, laundry and showers. After discussions with neighbors, it dropped the idea of morning services and proposed limited daytime usage. City staff later noted that opening the shelter during the day would “significantly increase operating and staffing costs.” Ultimately, the shelter chose to remain closed during the day.
Despite the latest setback in finding a location, the city has made headway on the operations side of the day services center over the last year.
Earlier this summer, the city reached an informal agreement with the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless to operate the day center. City officials are requesting approval from the Boulder City Council to spend $1.6 million on this operating agreement as part of their 2024 budget request. They are also asking for $10 million to buy a property for the day center and construct it.
Separately, the city recently purchased a home for its “project recovery” program that seeks to house and treat people addicted to methamphetamine. The first-of-its-kind program in Boulder is being overseen by Tribe Recovery Homes Inc., a Denver-based organization that mostly manages sober living homes. The organization offers peer support and addiction treatment. Several councilmembers toured the facility earlier this week.
After searching for the recovery home for nearly two years, Firnhaber said it is expected to open in the coming weeks.
“In a city where real estate is expensive and developable land is in high demand, it takes a while to find these kinds of places,” Firnhaber said.