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Homeless Solutions for Boulder County backtracks on six-month residency requirement

Change shared as ACLU calls Boulder's homeless policy inhumane, unconstitutional

A tent and hammock can be seen through the trees on the south side of Boulder Creek earlier this month in Boulder. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado wrote a letter to the city calling the city’s treatment of unhoused residents inhumane and unconstitutional. (Timothy Hurst / Staff Photographer)
A tent and hammock can be seen through the trees on the south side of Boulder Creek earlier this month in Boulder. The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado wrote a letter to the city calling the city’s treatment of unhoused residents inhumane and unconstitutional. (Timothy Hurst / Staff Photographer)
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Homeless Solutions for Boulder County intends to revoke its policy requiring that people live in the county for six months in order to obtain shelter services and other aid for those experiencing homelessness.

Although officials said the decision was made in a June executive board meeting, it was shared with the Camera Thursday, hours after the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado penned a letter to Boulder officials arguing the city’s treatment of its unhoused residents is inhumane and unconstitutional.

The six-month residency requirement, implemented in January 2020, was not repealed due to the legal concerns raised in the ACLU’s letter, Housing and Human Services Director Kurt Firnhaber said.

“This decision was based on what we think is best for the people that we’re trying to serve,” he said.

Heidi Grove, systems manager for Homeless Solutions for Boulder County, agreed. She said HSBC will provide a written response to the ACLU that details its plans.

“HSBC has an excellent track record of providing adults experiencing homelessness with targeted, responsive services to support quick, stable housing solutions,” Grove wrote in an email. “Given limits on resources, HSBC must consider the best policies to provide shelter services in a fair and equitable manner.”

The new policy is set to take effect Aug. 9, according to Firnhaber. In addition to removing the residency requirement, it effectively removes the severe weather shelter season and instead puts a 90-day cap on allowable nights at the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless. Those days will begin being counted Oct. 1.

Fewer than 10 people used the shelter for more than 60 days in the past year, Firnhaber said.

“We feel that the 90 days is actually quite adequate,” he said. “We hope that it will also help the community that’s concerned about camping. It will ensure that people actually do have a place to go, even in summertime.”

While individuals seeking services will continue to be required to go through the county’s coordinated entry screening process, the process will change. Currently, the first question people are asked is whether they have been in Boulder for more than six months. Until the policy officially changes, that answer impacts the services provided.

Annie Kurtz, an attorney and Equal Justice Works fellow with the ACLU, was pleased to hear that the city rescinded its policy.

“I’m glad that the policy is going away … because it’s a terrible policy,” she said. “I definitely have questions about how the policy is going to look and why the decision was made.”

For example, she hoped that those who were barred in the past due to the residency requirement would now be allowed to access services and that there would be targeted outreach to let those individuals know about the change.

And despite the newly announced change, the concerns expressed in the ACLU letter extend beyond the residency requirement. The letter also questioned how Boulder’s camping ban interacted with the soon-to-expire residency requirement.

“Records examined by the ACLU evidence a system that, with one hand, makes shelter available to only a limited few, and with the other, criminalizes those forced to sleep outdoors under the false narrative that they are resistant to services,” the letter states. “The scheme betrays a governmental aspiration ultimately to drive unhoused residents out of Boulder.”

Firnhaber said it’s the city’s view that the camping ban is in place because “the public spaces need to be open and available for everyone in our community.”

In a conversation before the city announced the change, Kurtz said she would like to see Boulder clarify that its enforcement of the ban will include an inquiry about whether the person being cited could meaningfully access housing.

The letter references several rulings that determined “the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

Kurtz wrote the letter and led the investigation, which began earlier this year after conversations with Boulder community members. It preceded a decision by Boulder City Council to allocate an additional $2.7 million over 18 months for measures to help enforce its camping ban.

“(That decision) didn’t inspire the investigation, but it didn’t inspire confidence,” she said.

Ultimately, Kurtz said the ACLU’s vision is to “bring a little more transparency to the human side of this.”

“Unhoused residents in Boulder also call Boulder home,” Kurtz said. “Boulder prides itself on being the No. 1 place to call home. That may be true for some, but it’s not true for its unhoused residents.”