While the definition of homelessness may be uniform, the groups experiencing it are not. We need to stop viewing the unhoused population as a single group and start looking at specialized solutions that meet the needs of each segment of this vulnerable population. By latest counts, roughly 25% of people experiencing homelessness are considered chronically homeless - the majority of whom are also unsheltered. This chronically homeless population in Boulder continues to grow, driven in large part by the explosion of highly addictive drugs and untreated acute mental illness. And while Boulder’s Housing First policy has proven to be a highly effective tool to address many forms of homelessness, the existing supportive housing infrastructure is insufficient for the specialized needs of this population.
As a city council member, I will prioritize the following efforts:
Increased Spending on Behavioral Health
On a per capita basis, the City of Boulder spends 3 to 7 times more on homelessness outreach and services than the rest of its Boulder County peers. Yet less than 20% of the chronically unhoused claim to have become homeless in Boulder and 51% of the unhoused have lived here for less than one month. For Boulder to continue to take the lead in addressing homelessness, the County and State need to acknowledge the dynamic nature of this problem and share the load. The City of Boulder needs coordinated and persistent advocacy at all levels of government to ensure our regional needs are met. Boulder should challenge the County to think big by considering a mental health tax to fund a behavioral health facility like that of Larimer County. At the state level, we need the state hospitals to clear the backlog of individuals sitting in our county jail and be held accountable for accommodating future needs.
Solutions for Chronic Homelessness
With roughly 80% of the chronically homeless suffering from acute mental health and/or substance abuse disorders, we cannot continue to insist that housing alone will address their needs. And using our scarce supportive housing resources for individuals who are actively addicted to and using methamphetamines creates dangerous and costly conditions for both the individual and neighboring residents. The Housing First approach needs to be adapted to facilitate a coordinated continuum of behavioral health treatment options as the first steps in the path to stable housing including expanded detox facilities, sober supported transitional housing and streamlined linkages to long-term treatment programs. We should also be actively partnering with other municipalities that are tackling similar problems to build a best-practice solution that is supported by real data and results. Following the failed models of SF, Portland and Seattle is not going to yield a different result. We must approach this problem differently and with a systems-thinking mindset.
Adoption of a Safe Shelter Policy
Expecting individuals in crisis to proactively navigate their mental and behavioral health challenges while facing serious risks living in our public spaces is not a realistic nor compassionate solution. While our long-term focus is, and should be, on treatment and stable housing, we must ensure that the unsheltered population reside in a safe indoor space until these solutions can be identified. The City needs to develop 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 existing shelter resources - an average of 35 unused beds per night - or expanding our Detox facilities, we must agree that our public spaces are not the answer and do better for our most vulnerable residents.
Terri brings the talent, demeanor, and balanced approach it has become clear is critically needed on the Boulder City Council. She is equally smart and humble, open and focused, listens and speaks articulately, is driven while demonstrating emotional intelligence. She is uniquely suited to intelligently and sensitively represent a wide spectrum of interests and address the challenges my beloved home of 25 years is facing. I have full confidence in her leadership and collaboration.