In the lead up to the Nov. 7, 2023 election, Boulder Reporting Lab asked readers what questions they wanted us to pose to the candidates running for Boulder City Council and mayor. We selected six that address significant community issues. Read all the responses as they publish here.
No issue in this election has garnered as much attention or raised as many practical and moral questions as the city’s approach to homeless encampments.
While most candidates express concerns about the inhumanity of allowing people in Boulder to sleep outside, they have different priorities when it comes to helping them.
Some candidates want the city to clear out homeless encampments more often. They believe that by doing this, homeless people will be more likely to seek a bed at the city’s shelter while also ensuring cleaner public spaces.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe it is unlawful and unethical to remove encampments — to confiscate or throw out people’s belongings, ticket them for behaviors that are legal indoors, or move them from one place to the next. These candidates argue the city should spend less money on clearing out encampments and instead fund homelessness prevention measures, such as rental assistance.
Most candidates, however, propose a combination of both approaches: removing homeless encampments in the short term, while in the long term, supporting transitional housing programs and mental health and drug treatment, among other measures.
Yet, if this year’s budget-setting process is any indication, the city doesn’t have the money to do both, at least not anytime soon. Understanding a candidate’s first priorities can provide insight into the direction they aim to take the city.
Each candidate was given 200 words to respond to the following question. Some answers have been edited to meet the word count. The candidates’ responses were randomly ordered for fairness. You can also jump to each candidate’s answers: Taishya Adams, Silas Atkins, Terri Brncic, Aaron Brockett, Jacques Decalo, Waylon Lewis, Tina Marquis, Aaron Gabriel Neyer, Paul Tweedlie, Jennifer Robins, Ryan Schuchard, Nicole Speer, Tara Winer, Bob Yates.
What approach would you take to address camping in our parks, on our bike paths and along our waterways?
I would continue to enforce the camping ban, with priority enforcement around schools, medical centers, day cares and recreation centers, as well as multi-use paths, waterways and areas more vulnerable to wildfires.
Enforcement around schools would continue to be the top priority for me so that our students can rely on a safe and welcoming experience every day they go to school. I am supportive of the Reimagine Policing plan that focuses on prevention, equity and compassion, which I believe balances our community’s interest in both helping those experiencing homelessness and maintaining safe and welcoming public spaces. I also support the Crisis Intervention Response Team to respond to the needs of our community as well as the homeless day center to provide a place for the unhoused to rest, receive support, and connect to services during the day. Finally, the end goal is of course to eliminate the need for camping by providing affordable and supportive housing.
The unsanctioned public camping is infringing on residents, tourists, businesses,and other’s freedom, safety and peaceful access to our public spaces. As a lifelong Boulder biker, I want everyone to have equally safe experiences on our paths without threat from others. I support enforcing the camping ban as well as Safe Zones for Kids.
The reason these people are camping where they are is because of a multitude of reasons but primarily seeking a space for shelter. I support a combined approach of public safety guardrails and compassionate, effective programs that address homelessness and the needs of those people via better mental health resources and opportunities. Providing housing needs to be combined with coordinated entry and access to mental health and substance use rehabilitation programs. I fully support the Bridge House and other ready-to-work programs that help transition people out of homelessness with housing, job training and needed health resources. We must work to increase access to programs that rehabilitate people experiencing homelessness and encourage them to become functioning members of society. I would like to see the shelter expanded to a 24-hour shelter with increased provisions to mental health resources and drug addiction therapy.
A key part of the approach needs to be giving people more sheltering, service and housing options so they have alternatives to camping in town. But we also need to continue the enforcement of the city’s camping ban so that we don’t have permanent encampments in town with the trash, sanitation and safety issues that accompany them. That is why I supported adding a second clean up team earlier this year. We also have increased enforcement around Boulder High and now confiscate propane tanks on sight. We also now require people to move immediately if they are obstructing bike paths or other rights of way.
We need to bring multiple forces under control. These solutions seem promising:
Ensure the police chief has what’s needed to keep sidewalks and multi-use paths clear to minimize user conflicts. The police need to continue to be able to prioritize enforcement resources to keep pedestrian and cycling paths open and accessible for all.
Implement non-police responses to assist people in mental health distress. Use civilian personnel to respond to people in crisis, which Boulder will soon do through its CARE program, which is more cost effective and a lower-confrontation way to address disruptive behaviors in public spaces.
Provide resources to keep people healthy and parks clean. Boulder needs more accessible public toilets/port-a-pots, trash and needle disposal locations, access to drinking water, and other amenities to foster hygienic care and to prevent human waste from polluting public spaces.
Establish a wider and more accessible network of places for people to go who have been asked to decamp. The day shelter coming online will help. We also need more options for immediate overnight camping and parking.
Give people experiencing homelessness while going through a range of challenging life circumstances an accessible pipeline to crucial services.
[Editor’s note: Schuchard referred to his response to a question about homelessness to expand upon his answer.]
Give people a place to go, which needs to be housing first with supportive services. Moving people around is harmful, costly, and does not solve anything. Everyone is welcome to and deserving of housing and everything comes back to people. We need our basic needs met, and when they are, we are more productive and engaged members of our community. When those of us that are struggling succeed, it benefits everyone long term and we all win. As was shown during the King Soopers shooting, the people that we see in the grocery store every day impact our lives as we impact theirs. Don’t you want the person who serves you lunch, teaches your children, responds to medical emergencies, and provides city services to live in your neighborhood so we all get more from our time together?
It is unacceptable that we have people living in our public spaces. To address this situation, we need to invest in evidence-based solutions such as those mentioned above, and divest in failed policies. The climate crisis was exacerbated by people’s inability to believe in science and accept facts. Our encampment situation is also exacerbated by our unwillingness to believe in science, listen to people with lived experience, and accept the facts about who is homeless and why.
Housing ends homelessness, but we do not have the financial or staffing resources to rapidly build permanent, supportive housing for everyone who is camping in our parks and along our waterways and multi-use paths. We can, however, divert the funding we spend on encampment removals and follow Denver’s lead by creating micro-communities that can more quickly provide sheltered communities with wraparound services for people whose needs cannot be met by existing shelters.
These micro-communities should be small (6-8 individuals per micro-community), they should be equitably distributed across the city, and we should incentivize their use rather than punishing use of public spaces. Read more about how we can fund evidence-based policies at no additional cost with the 2024 budget, and finally reduce encampments.
Encampments are not a compassionate solution. There is no sobriety on the creek. No one should be living on the street. The unhoused are a very vulnerable part of our community. Unfortunately, we have situations where the current encampments are the cause for micro crime hot spots, which show 30% of crime is occurring in 10% of the city. A good portion of the more serious misdemeanors are happening to the unhoused from the unhoused. [Editor’s note: The Boulder Police Department has not published publicly available data on which reports of crime involve homeless people.]
We have an obligation to help those in need. We also have an obligation to provide our community the ability to enjoy the city and feel safe, and too often that is not the reality they are experiencing. A small portion of the homeless population makes a negative impact on our community by way of overrunning public spaces and transportation, theft, trash, creek pollution, property destruction and ongoing safety issues for city workers. We need to continue outreach to the people in the encampments to get them involved with coordinated entry and the services that are offered in our city. We have to enforce the camping ban laws and continue to utilize law enforcement to help with this on-going issue.
We need to change the dialogue in our community and acknowledge that allowing individuals to suffer severe crises in our public spaces without any meaningful response is not compassionate or humane. It’s also not safe — for anyone. Boulder’s unsheltered population is 3.5 times more likely to be victimized than the housed population and incidents of assault and overdoses are widespread. At the same time, these conditions are creating a dangerous environment for our community members who no longer feel safe using our public spaces.
While the city’s long-term focus is on treatment and stable housing, these solutions will take time. In the interim, we must ensure that the unsheltered population resides in a safe indoor space. The city needs to enforce the existing camping ban and enact a mandatory sheltering protocol that will take a triaged approach toward providing appropriate indoor shelter based on individual circumstances. Whether it is by utilizing the available space in our existing shelters — an average of 35 unutilized beds per night — or expanding our detox facility that can scale up to 40 beds, we must agree that we have a responsibility to protect our vulnerable residents and make public spaces available to all.
[Editor’s note: While the shelter does often have empty beds in the summer, it turns people away due to a lack of capacity on some nights during the winter months, according to publicly available city data. The shelter, located in North Boulder, also prohibits people from entering for other reasons, such as not completing a screening process, known as coordinated entry, or having a pet.]
I advocate for investments in evidence-based, knowledge-aligned proactive approaches like basic income support, increasing the minimum wage to a living wage to stop new people from becoming unhoused, and expand affordable housing programs to include transitional and sober living options. I bring an ecosystem approach to policymaking that addresses more than the tip of the iceberg.
This isn’t easy, making progress — but the status quo is far harder on all of us. It’s not safe for joggers, for tourists, for seniors, for cyclists or for our homeless. It’s also a moral issue: We can not allow ourselves as a society to look the other way on freezing cold nights or 100 degree days. We can work in concert with our police force, our non-profits and our homeless friends to help folks get the care they need to get back to permanent housing and active roles in society and employment. As for those concerned about making Boulder attractive to homeless elsewhere, that’s where the “stick” of carrot-fame comes in: enforcement.
I support Boulder’s encampment ban. Our public spaces need to be shared. The encampment ban is certainly not a solution for homelessness, but it is a tool to help maintain our shared spaces. Our SAMPS team (Safe and Managed Public Spaces), is a multi-departmental clean up team. I had the opportunity to walk around town with this team; they were compassionate and professional. They attempt to engage people in resources. Their process involves advanced notices. Cleanup day is the last step of a long process.
We have a shelter for people to have somewhere to sleep at night. But they do need somewhere to go during the day. That is why I support a day shelter with toilets, showers, locker, and connections to other support services. About a year ago council allocated an additional $1 million for this initiative.
Our bike paths need to be clear from obstructions. When biking through a dark underpass, it is crucial for safety for all that the underpass is clear. We need real solutions, not bandaids. One solution I will champion is pallet homes. Neighboring cities are having success with this inexpensive, efficient type of housing which can be constructed quickly.
Aaron Gabriel Neyer
I would support police reform that amplifies more mental health outreach to better understand the problems facing those on the streets and help to more effectively connect them with services; and then have a light but strong touch by police which enforces people moving in the direction of getting support while ensuring that our spaces are able to stay safe and clean. This has to happen through greater collaboration between departments, which is already beginning to happen in increasing ways within city government. Mental health responders, police officers, service workers and more; need to be moving together as a team with a unified intention that both includes having safe and clean public spaces, and helping our most vulnerable populations.
Camping in Boulder’s public spaces, including in parks, on bike paths, and along waterways is — and should remain — illegal. It is neither safe for the campers, nor for housed residents. When someone takes public space for their exclusive use, the rest of the community is excluded. To address this inappropriate and illegal taking, I helped launch the city’s internal encampment clean-up crew, and I successfully advocated for the clean-up crew’s doubling in 2023. We should continue to expand the clean-up crew’s capacity until it becomes clear to would-be campers that camping in Boulder’s public spaces is illegal and unsafe, and that there are safer and more appropriate places where they can live as they connect to long-term solutions to end their homelessness.
We need to enforce our laws. A first misdemeanor gets you a ticket and a fine. If you don’t pay your fine, you go to jail.