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Boulder to fight "unwelcoming behavior" by homeless, other groups

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How to describe the behavior of some homeless people and assorted members other groups in Boulder?

A new update on homeless issues, presented in the context of Boulder County's "Ten-Year Plan to Address Homelessness Progress," deploys an unusual term: "unwelcoming."

See the document, shared as part of the agenda package for tomorrow's Boulder City Council meeting, and get more details below.

The Boulder Daily Camera flagged a section from the executive summary of "local and regional planning efforts to address homelessness, including the Boulder Homelessness Planning Group (BHPG), and rightly so.

The passage notes that the BHPG "has been working to identify and address issues of particular concern to the City of Boulder, including service coordination, data collection, and issues of safety and the unwelcoming environment currently being experienced in the municipal campus area."

The word "unwelcoming" wasn't chosen randomly. Indeed, it's used again in a background section of the report -- and in that context, the authors maintain that the problem isn't solely attributable to the city's homeless population. Here's an excerpt:

During the past several months, the BHPG has been developing recommendations for the city to address community concerns of illegal and unwelcoming behavior in the municipal campus and downtown area, often attributed to the homeless [our emphasis]. In addition to the homeless, there are many other people and groups that frequent the municipal campus.

Just as interesting are the next lines: "The issues on campus are ones of behavior, not housing status, and strategies to address these issues need to be targeted to the behaviors."

In other words, the problems that concern the BHPG won't be solved by more and better housing or the other efforts typically considered key to addressing homelessness. The text seems to argue that the actions are cultural and must be handled with that in mind.

The Boulder Police Department appears to agree: The document references the BPD's view about the "need for more officers to address enforcement issues," in part because "Boulder business owners report an increased homeless presence in areas such as the University Hill business district and Pearl Street Mall."

To that end, the BHPG has been exploring the following options.

Continue for more about Boulder's efforts to address homelessness behavior, including more photos and a document. Here are several bulleted approaches mentioned in the info packet:

• Piloting a part-time outreach team tasked with patrolling the central municipal campus and downtown areas to discourage illegal behavior, connect people with needed services, collect information on the needs of the homeless population, and identify who are the various groups and users of public space. The BHPG supports increased police enforcement for illegal behaviors, and recommends that an outreach team be comprised of a police officer, a homeless service provider, and possibly a representative of the homeless community. Staff support this approach and have initiated discussions with potential partners including Bridge House, BSH, BPD and the municipal court.

• Piloting a countywide coordinated entry system1 for chronically homeless individuals and families. Representatives of Boulder, Longmont and the Ten-Year Plan Board will be determining whether to create a pilot program in the third quarter of 2013.

• De-concentrating services such as meal programs on the central municipal campus, while maintaining access to needed services. Meals are regularly provided to large groups on weekends on the lawn near the Main Library between April and October. The BHPG discussed opportunities for the food service providers to partner with the faith community to relocate food programs and the possibility of developing a more coordinated approach to meal service long term to fill gaps on weekends. Staff met with the meal providers and discussed the challenges created by multiple groups distributing food on the municipal campus lawn. Some meal providers disagree with de-concentrating services and indicate the municipal lawn is a convenient and accessible location for services. Bridge House operates a Monday through Friday meal program. Lack of resources have prohibited Bridge House from expanding.

• Behavioral Standards: The BHPG is developing common behavioral standards for use by homeless service providers in Boulder and potentially Longmont. The group considers common standards with a uniform message and enforcement to be a significant step toward standardizing community-wide behavioral expectations of clients.

• Public Education Campaign: The BHPG is exploring a public education campaign to increase awareness about homelessness in the community. Campaign messages could include the diversity of the homeless population, including information on the many types of homelessness, invisible homeless groups such as families, and panhandlers, who are not all homeless. The public also could be informed about alternative ways to help the homeless, such as giving to homeless service organizations. BHPG and business community representatives are now discussing perspectives on the issues and areas of shared concern and opportunity.

• Other potential recommendations for further discussion by BHPG include: expansion of day programs to productively engage people, and possible recommendations for modification of current city ordinances such as panhandling and smoking bans to address use of public space issues.

• In coming months the BHPG will be addressing systemic issues (e.g., common data collection, coordination among service providers, appropriate service mix) with a goal of maximizing self-sufficiency for homeless clients.

Tomorrow's council meeting gets underway at 6 p.m. Here's the complete agenda: The information featured here begins toward the end of the document -- page 568.

Boulder City Council Agenda August 20, 2013

More from our News archive circa September 2012: "Photos: Project Homeless Connect draws thousands against backdrop of camping ban."

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