CITYPAK provides custom backpacks for homeless in Boulder

Most backpackers don't need wrist straps to prevent their packs from being stolen while they're sleeping -- but most backpackers aren't homeless, either.

Chicago businessman Ron Kaplan's CITYPAK program has come up with backpacks specially designed for the homeless -- and beginning today, a new batch will be distributed.

It's the second such effort in recent months -- and one particularly needed given the impact of recent flooding.

Back in August, a crowd of homeless men and women arrived at the Bridge House's Resource Center in Boulder to receive their own backpacks courtesy of CITYPAK, which worked with local companies such as AEG Live Rocky Mountains, Madison House, the Fox Theater and the Boulder Theater on the effort.

CITYPAK was established in 2012 as a Chicago-area program, when Kaplan (who also co-founded the music booking agency Monterey International) saw "so many people living on the streets" who had "an inadequate means of carrying and [protecting] their belongings," according to the organization's website. The program has already given away 17,000 packs in Chicago and has a full slate of events planned for this fall for that city.

But Kaplan also visits the Denver/Boulder area on a regular basis for both business and pleasure and wanted to give back to the community he'd become so familiar with over the years. This resulted in CITYPAK's first effort outside of Chicago. The feedback thus far has consisted of "nothing but good things," said Chris Vibrans, a case manager at the the Resource Center. "They've developed a tag system to tell them apart. The packs hold a lot and I've been told they have good weight distribution."

The packs were custom-designed by the outdoor gear company High Sierra for CITYPAK's original effort in Chicago last December. That same design was used in the manufacturing of 1,000 backpacks for Boulder's program. Among their features are the aforementioned wrist attachment, a cinch-top closure, ballistic nylon outer-shell and a built-in poncho that protects the pack and its owner from rain.

Although Boulder has a reputation as an affluent town, the community has plentyof homeless residents. As of 2011, there were 1,779 individuals living in Boulder County who self-identified as homeless, according to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative. To eradicate this problem, Boulder County implemented its own Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness similar to the one introduced in Denver almost a decade ago. The first draft of this plan was completed in April 2010, the product of a collaboration between Boulder's Advisory Committee and Leadership Team.

About 150 backpacks were given away during the initial distribution, leaving 850 more -- but the need in Boulder has never been greater, with the floods adding an as-yet uncounted number to the homeless ranks and cold weather hitting. Boulder's shelter opened two weeks early, on October 1, to accommodate those left homeless by the flood. And starting today, there will be another round of CITYPAK backpack distributions.

More from our News archive: "Boulder more unwelcoming than its homeless."

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Nick Petrak
Contact: Nick Petrak