Jennifer Livovich remembers nights at Central Park singing with Pricilla Villalva .
“She was a trip,” Livovich said into a microphone Saturday morning. “She liked to have a good time.”
Villalva was among the 48 homeless people who died in the Boulder area in 2019 — more than double the deaths reported in years prior.
“That number took us all by surprise,” said Scott Medina, the director of communications for the Bridge House, an organization that provides services and programs to the homeless. “I think we need to look into why that number has grown.”
To remember those who died and bring light to the issue, Boulder’s Bridge House, an organization that provide services and program for the homeless, hosted a memorial to honor them. On the bandshell stage, roughly 50 people crowded around individual portraits naming those who died. Roses and candles were tucked next to each frame. Throughout the ceremony, people shared stories of those they knew and several songs were performed.
Livovich, who was homeless for four years in Boulder and struggled with alcohol addiction, knew many of those named, in addition to Villalva. She remembered Paul Leal, who she described as “the nicest man you will ever want to meet,” and Curtis “Seth” Lawson, a “cool dude.”
Livovich is now studying at Colorado State University in Fort Collins in the hopes of one day running her own nonprofit and helping the homeless. She said some challenges she faced being homeless in Boulder were access to a place to shower and store personal belongings and transportation — all issues she said made finding a job and getting to mental health appointments difficult.
Some at the memorial said the deaths this year show that not enough has been done to address the issue.
Bill Sweeney, a Bridge House volunteer, said people should feel outraged at the number of deaths.
“This is the wrong direction,” Sweeney said. “It is a sad thing that we have this situation continuing. In addition to the love we bring today, we must also bring our voices and our righteous anger and ask that this situation not continue.”
Kristin Hyser, the deputy director of Housing and Human Services, said a Homeless Strategy was created by the city in an effort to provide more people with the opportunity to find stabling housing. On Jan. 7, 2020, Housing and Human Services staff will discuss with city leaders the goals achieved through this plan. The city is also working on a memorandum, which will be available on Boulder’s website on Jan. 2, Hyser said. According to city documents, more than $1 million in spending has been proposed to address homelessness in 2020.
Incorporated in those plans is reinvesting about $211,188, which will be realized when the Bridge House closes its 50-bed, severe weather shelter at 30th Street in May 2020. The organization has a second location at 4747 Table Mesa Drive. The city plans to put affordable housing in place of the 30th Street shelter, which according to prior reporting was always meant to be temporary. The shelter is open only when temperatures dropped to 32 degrees or below and 38 degrees if there is precipitation.
The names listed Saturday included some of the people who were recognized during a ceremony for the homeless in Longmont on Wednesday. That memorial, which named 11 homeless, was hosted by Homeless Outreach Providing Encouragement. Medina added that some of those honored during Boulder’s memorial included people who had found housing, but had struggled with chronic homelessness throughout their lives.
City Councilman Aaron Brockett was among those who attended Saturday’s memorial. After the ceremony, Brockett and Council member Rachel Friend and city Human Relations Commission chair Nikhil Mankekar emailed the Boulder Hotline requesting that the city be able to obtain more information that could shed light on the death increase, stating that they were “extremely concerned.”
During the memorial, Brockett read a declaration, proclaiming Dec. 21 as National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day. He, too, encouraged action in the new year.
“Each one of these folks is there own precious and unique individual and they were taken from us too soon,” Brockett said. ” I want to give each of you a request that we all need do what we can in the next year to make sure that a year from now, we have fewer names up here.”