In the wake of the fourth homeless death in five weeks, advocates for Boulder's less fortunate — as well as those living on the city's streets — say more needs to be done to help during these late-spring weeks between the closure of winter services and the arrival of steady warm weather.
Drew Duncan and Steven McMillian, who have been homeless for a number of years, said exposure-related deaths are common in the springtime, mainly due to wet and often unpredictable weather.
"It's not the winter that kills most of us, because you expect it to be cold," said McMillian, while sitting along Boulder Creek on Monday. "But in the spring, when you have highs in the 70s, you don't expect a weekend of snow with highs in the 50s.
"If you end up getting wet right before nightfall — you can't have a fire anywhere in Boulder and you don't have a chance to dry off with a hand dryer — you run the risk of dying of exposure."
Boulder homeless deaths
The bodies of four people have been found outdoors in Boulder in the past five weeks. All are believed to be homeless. The coroner has yet to rule on the cause and manner of their deaths.
April 4: The body of Janice Adams, 53, was discovered in the area of the Boulder Creek Path underpass near the intersection of Arapahoe Avenue and Broadway.
April 5: The body of Ralph Devore, 51, was found just east of the intersection of College Avenue and Broadway on the University of Colorado campus.
April 15: The body of Thomas Cornell, 32, of Colorado Springs, was found in a drainage ditch behind the Boulder Target store at 2800 Pearl St. He was believed to be a transient as well.
Sunday: The body of an unidentified homeless woman was found next to a building between the skate park and pool at Scott Carpenter Park near 30th Street and Arapahoe Avenue.
Duncan added: "It happens every year around this time of year. You get sick of talking about it when you live with it every day."
The latest in the current string of deaths came Sunday, when Boulder police responded to Scott Carpenter Park just after 7 a.m. to find the body of a woman they said was homeless, along with a shopping cart containing what they believed to be her belongings.
The Boulder County Coroner's Office has not yet identified the woman, and continues to investigate the cause and manner of her death, along with the three other homeless people whose bodies have been found outdoors in Boulder since April 4.
There were no outward signs of foul play in any of those cases, police said.
"Everyone is really saddened," said Isabel McDevitt, director of Boulder-based homeless services center Bridge House. "Losing a life is not acceptable in a community with as many resources as ours."
McDevitt said this time of year is typically the most dangerous for homeless people, as the resources they had using during the winter disappear — but wet and cold weather still occasionally strike, as it did this past weekend.
"Looking back over the last several years, this time of year is the most difficult given the changes in emergency shelter and the unpredictability of the weather," McDevitt said. "We've definitely been hit hard over the last four to six weeks."
McMillian and Duncan each cited Boulder's camping ban and the closure of the city's parks between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. as factors that have made it more difficult to find a safe, relatively warm place to spend the night.
"It has gotten to the point where a majority of us are staying up at night and sleeping during the day," McMillian said. "That leads to sleep deprivation and hinders getting jobs or doing anything productive during the day."
Both men said one of the biggest ways to help would be to provide the local homeless population with a free or cheap place to store their possessions during the day while they work or look for employment.
Furthermore, Duncan said, the daily routine of carrying around gear, unpacking, packing back up and getting from place to place can wear people down, making them more vulnerable to exposure and other dangers.
"Ninety percent of what kills you being homeless is just going through the motions to get what you need," he said. "It really weighs you down. It's a burden."
The Boulder Shelter for the Homeless' North Broadway facility does offer morning services — including showers, breakfast and laundry facilities — year-round, but its emergency sheltering program is closed for the season. Sunday's cold and wet weather forced Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow to reopen its doors to anyone seeking shelter in the cold, wet conditions.
"Homeless people have fewer places to go in this weather, and it creates a hardship for them," said Ardie Sehulster, chair of the board of directors at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless. "I think this is a dialogue that the county and the larger community need to have."
Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum agreed that this transition time is a concern, but said the community needs to examine the bigger picture when it came to caring for the homeless.
"I think the priority has to be providing the long-term solutions, and collaborating with the county and the state taking the lead," Appelbaum said. "There are certainly emergency needs, but the city cannot possibly provide all of them. What needs to be looked at are the longer-term solutions to get people out of the situations they are in.
"I know this doesn't solve all of the emergency problems tomorrow, and I get that, but I don't know if anybody knows how to do that at this point."
Appelbaum pointed out the city of Boulder spends more money on human services than most cities, but said more could still be done to make sure that money was used in a way that had the biggest impact on helping the homeless.
"It certainly is reasonable to suggest these deaths were preventable," Appelbaum said. "It's a tragedy, and something that is troubling and something that needs to be dealt with or prevented as best as we can."