Protect Boulder's Homeless from Unfair Treatment at the Shelter

Greg Harms, Executive Director of the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless

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Last year, Benjamin Harvey froze to death on a park bench on Christmas after being denied a bed at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless due to a year-long suspension.

The Shelter continues to kick out residents or deny entrance for minor offenses. With winter here, and no substantive changes made since Benjamin's death, we are certain to lose even more friends to the cold.

We won't sit idly by as our neighbors freeze on our streets while beds sit empty in the homeless Shelter.

Sign our letter to Executive Director, Greg Harms to demand justice for the poorest among us.




Petition by
Boulder County DSA
Boulder, Colorado
Sponsored by

To: Greg Harms, Executive Director of the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless
From: [Your Name]

Mr. Harms,

Last Christmas in the early hours of the morning, a man named Benjamin Harvey was found dead in Boulder near the University of Colorado. Facing a year-long ban from the homeless shelter, Harvey froze outside in ten degree weather (without a blanket or sleeping bag, due to the city’s inhumane criminalization of “urban camping”). Despite the fact that Boulder Shelter for the Homeless employees referred Harvey to your shelter through the Coordinated Entry program, his one year suspension from the facility still prevented him from accessing a bed for the night.

An infraction of shelter rules should never be a death sentence. Under your leadership, people experiencing homelessness are subject to the arbitrary and capricious enforcement of Shelter rules, often resulting in expulsion from the shelter on unreasonably short notice, with insufficient warnings, and no offer of transportation--even though City Council created a requirement for transport to other services in the event of a suspension. With winter approaching, we fear that these practices will lead to even more deaths. Resident efforts to draw attention to the inconsistency, favoritism, and disturbing lack of transparency in staff decision making are met with further punishment. So, they are faced with two choices: obey shelter authorities unconditionally, or risk being sent out into the streets. Not only that, but your facility is run without public oversight, despite receiving one third of its funding from public sources. All of this amounts to an alarming lack of accountability for shelter staff, especially considering that they wield power over their residents’ access to warmth, food, and a place to rest. It is clear that something must change.

In order to prevent future tragedies and injustices in our community, we demand binding third party arbitration for resident grievances. Since Benjamin Harvey’s death, the shelter has utilized the city’s community mediation services to handle disputes, but only in a non-binding capacity. Given the grave consequences posed by unfair suspensions from the facility, this is not enough. Allowing community mediation services to make binding decisions would ensure that conflicts are resolved more fairly, and we hope that it would amplify the voices of Boulder’s most disadvantaged citizens.

We also demand that all active suspensions be reevaluated by a third party, and that suspended individuals referred to the shelter through the Coordinated Entry system be allowed back. Only those with the highest need are referred to the Boulder Homeless Shelter under Coordinated Entry, but those facing prior bans are blocked from receiving the care they need. Those who are banned must sleep on the streets, sometimes in dangerously low temperatures. The severe weather shelter opens its doors if freezing temperatures or snow are predicted, but many still face obstacles, such as transportation. Not only that, but weather predictions are not always accurate. Temperatures may fall much lower than anticipated, as they did the night Benjamin Harvey died, leaving people with no alternative but to freeze. The risk of unfair suspensions is too great, and those decisions should be reassessed.

Finally, it is important that residents at your shelter are represented by people who truly empathize with their position and understand the struggles they face. Therefore, we demand that individuals who are currently or formerly homeless be given a place on the shelter’s board of directors. No one better understands the needs of people experiencing poverty and homelessness than those who have dealt with it first hand. It is necessary that those individuals are given a say in how the shelter is run.

The people of Boulder refuse to stand by while the city’s most vulnerable are denied their basic right to shelter, putting their health, safety, and lives at risk. We refuse to believe that people experiencing homelessness forfeit this human right by failing to act with perfect compliance and obedience towards authority. In a society that punishes poverty and criminalizes homelessness, the very least we can do is ensure that disadvantaged people are treated with fairness and dignity within the very structures designed to help them.

Sincerely,
Boulder and Broomfield County Democratic Socialists of America