Before this year, Rick Hamp, the property manager for central Boulder’s Gold Run condos, had never hired a private security firm to patrol the 363-unit complex.
But within the last six months, that changed. Hamp said this was the first year out of his five on the job he made the decision to hire security officers to keep watch on the property, and it was driven by issues surrounding Boulder’s population of people experiencing homelessness.
Previous to the last year, Hamp said he would notice a person sleeping in a stairwell on cold nights, but he felt the homeless residents in the area posed no real danger, and he would politely wake them up and ask them to not return to the property.
“It’s a little bit different prior to the last couple of years,” Hamp said. “It seems there is a different caliber, a different type of homeless population here. They’re malicious. We’re having a lot of damages, we’re having a lot of theft. Bikes are getting stolen quite a bit. Amazon packages are going missing, bicycle parts. We’ve had issues where they’ve gone into garages and taken everything that wasn’t strapped down.”
He said he found a fake gun along with a wolf mask this year, and has also come across needles and drug paraphernalia this year, items that were rare to find on the grounds with the lesser activity of people experiencing homeless in the past.
Gold Run budgeted $25,000 for the security service this year, along with $30,000 to put more secure doors on its first-floor units and buildings, Hamp said.
The issue has proliferated throughout Boulder County, and across the entire Front Range, according to security officer contractors like Broomfield-based Colorado Security Services President Billy Hodge, who say their businesses in the last two years are seeing big upticks in requests for patrols on properties that previously had no security, along with higher demand for more intense, expensive levels of service.
“It gets worse every year,” Hodge said. “It’s not just Boulder. It’s up in Longmont now, Lafayette, Louisville. It’s not a city problem, it’s a state problem. … I’ve been doing this in the area for 28 years now, and the homeless population in Boulder, you used to pretty much know them by name. Now you’re seeing a steady flow of people coming from all around.”
Small mountain town with ‘big city life’
Ryan Harman, vice president for Colorado Security Services, said the company serves about 200 properties in Boulder, and around 90% of them use a mobile patrol service, which involves a company guard coming by the property, along with several others, multiple times during a shift. But the approximate 10% portion of his Boulder clients using the on-site service the company offers, which involves a guard staying on patrol at a single property his or her entire shift, is employed more often today than a few years ago.
“It used to be able to remedy most properties just with the mobile patrol,” Harman said. “… It’s definitely something new within the last couple years, that we’ve experienced property managers would rather have someone sitting there all night than someone stopping by randomly.”
Gold Run’s adjacency to the Boulder Creek Path drives a higher amount of people experiencing homelessness to the property, Harman theorized.
Matthew Power, resident manager at the Wimbledon residential complex south of Gold Run, said his property has always employed security services for at least 20 years, and said he hasn’t noticed a rise in concerning behavior among people experiencing homelessness or their population levels.
“I’m only saying it hasn’t (increased) because it’s always been,” Power said. “I think a lot of people think it’s going to be a small mountain town, but it’s a small mountain town with big city life inside of it.”
He suggested more and brighter lighting at night may help mitigate issues surrounding homelessness and the activity of those experiencing it, but the city’s implementation of its Outdoor Lighting Ordinance, also known as the dark sky rule, has been an obstacle.
“Lighting really helps that,” Power said. “The city hasn’t often really been helpful with lighting with the dark sky compliance. They tend to want to make the city a little darker at night.”
‘It’s way worse now’
Front Range Security Services Owner Rob Bigam, who said he has patrols for residential properties in Loveland and Boulder County, among other areas, said having public restrooms available for use by homeless people could also cut back on problems stemming from homelessness, including human waste being left on private property.
“It’s way worse now. You find bags of (needles),” Bigam said. “… It used to be more to where we would have a patrol to that we would go by two times a night. Now it’s gotten to the point where you have to have a posted guard there 24/7 because (property managers) don’t want the vandalism.”
Boulder two years ago piloted an effort to place what were labeled as “tamper-proof” sharps disposals in portable toilets in public spaces, but the disposals proved ineffective and were still vandalized. Officials are looking for a truly tamper-proof solution to again try to implement public restrooms, city staff said earlier this year.
“The biggest driver of our business is going to be the transient community. It’s just a constant,” Harman said.
Jeremy Durham, executive director of city public housing authority Boulder Housing Partners, said the properties in the agency’s portfolio have contracted private security patrols since before he started with the organization in 2015, and will continue to do so. He is unaware of any incidents involving people experiencing homelessness that have grown consternation with the demographic among affordable housing residents.
“Based on the breadth of how we do it, we do (security patrols) all over, including properties near downtown, I think it’s just something we do as part of being a diligent property manager, as opposed to something that’s a reaction to a specific incident or series of incidents, or any kind of perceptions about the homeless members of the community,” Durham said.