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Herbert Francois lays on his blanket Monday at the severe weather shelter at 2691 30th St. in Boulder. (Photo by Jeremy Papasso/Staff Photographer)
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With a homeless shelter on 30th Street that was opened every night by City Council this year transitioning away from providing services after this weekend, its operator worries Boulder is losing too much bed capacity too quickly amid a pandemic expected to put more Americans on the street.

Isabel McDevitt, director of Bridge House, the nonprofit that ran severe weather shelter at 2691 30th St. that elected officials shifted to make its 72 beds available nightly instead of opening only on particularly cold nights, is concerned the move is coming at the wrong time after a crucial policy shift has limited who can obtain homeless services. The closure of the shelter had been planned for more than a year, and the property is set to become permanently affordable housing units.

Bridge House also ran the service known as Path to Home at the facility, which sought to quickly bring participants out of the cycle of homelessness, often by reconnecting them with friends or family with available housing in the area or even out of state. That program is now being consolidated into the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless on north Broadway, although that building is currently down to just 90 beds it can provide from its normal 160 due to the coronavirus and the need for social distancing.

A plan for the fall, when temperatures begin to drop again with a chance the virus that causes COVID-19 is still on the loose, has not yet been solidified, said Greg Harms, director of the Boulder Shelter at 4869 Broadway. He believes there will be some sort of severe weather sheltering option developed, when demand for indoor overnight arrangements is higher than the summer. The severe weather shelter hosted markedly more people when it began to open every night, officials have said, and participation in the Path to Home navigation service dropped as people experiencing homelessness opted for the former. Boulder Shelter’s housing-focused program now requires that participants have lived in Boulder County for more than six months.

“It’s going to be a summer just like last summer and the summer before, where there are options for people who qualify and want to be engaged, but not a lot of services for those who don’t want to participate, which is the way it’s been,” Harms said. “… I will say that it’s been our focus for several years now to continue to try and funnel resources to permanent solutions rather than temporary ones. The closing of 30th Street is in that vein.”

Bridge House’s lease on the facility was set to expire this year, and it extended its nightly operations through Sunday, as the pandemic struck locally, to stave off a return to temperature-based opening thresholds that had been set to take hold again earlier this year.

Bridge House’s Path to Home normally helped people who had been living in the area for less than six months,, and those duties are now falling to the Boulder Shelter. McDevitt said some participants have found success in obtaining local employment and then housing in the short time they were able to use the program for shelter and support.

“Bridge House understands … the plan for Homeless Solutions for Boulder County has been to decrease shelter services in exchange for investing in housing. While that is a good direction and goal, we still have 50 to 70 people using shelter services every night and we don’t have an explicit plan for where they will go after May 31,” McDevitt said.

She added: “One major policy change that happened, which is the fact that navigation services are not available to people who haven’t been in the county for six months or more. Whether people believe that those folks should be helped or not is not the issue. The issue is they are here in our community, they’re experiencing homelessness in Boulder, so if they’re not eligible for any kind of sheltering service, what kind of impact is that going to have on the community if they do not have a safe place to sleep?”

It is possible to continue the progress of the system and consolidate shelter services with the closure, McDevitt believes, but existing facilities must maximize their capacities and offerings.

Since the countywide coordinated entry program for homeless services was started in October 2017, 3,534 people have been screened for the program, while 817 have exited homelessness, according to the city’s Single Adult Homelessness Services Dashboard. Among those to have exited, 393 have found housing, 249 have been reunited with friends or family outside Boulder, and 46 have reunified with someone in Boulder. Another 97 have exited to “long-term programming,” and 31 have left homelessness for residential treatment.

“It’s obvious a single focus on housing vouchers is not meeting the need,” McDevitt said.

Harms is hoping to move up to 100 beds from the virus-reduced 90 starting Monday but is unsure of when Boulder Shelter will return to offering its full 160 beds as it depends on the route of the virus through the world.

“Homeless Solutions for Boulder County is committed to offering services that align with housing-first principles and ending homelessness in our community. We are grateful for the work Bridge House has provided to our most vulnerable community members and look forward to them continuing to be a steadfast community partner. We have the utmost confidence that Boulder Shelter for the Homeless will continue to support our shared mission of creating avenues to stable housing for our community’s homeless adults,” Boulder County Director of Community Services Robin Bohannan stated in a news release.

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