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Sophia Rose, left, and Brenda Joy hand out hot lunches to homeless people in Central Park in Boulder on November 12, 2021. Circle of Love is  a nonprofit that provides soup and hot meals for boulder’s unhoused.  (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Sophia Rose, left, and Brenda Joy hand out hot lunches to homeless people in Central Park in Boulder on November 12, 2021. Circle of Love is a nonprofit that provides soup and hot meals for boulder’s unhoused. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Boulder County has yet to have measurable snow, but preparations meant to support the county’s unhoused residents through the colder months are underway.

Homeless Solutions for Boulder County has recently changed a number of policies regarding those seeking shelter in the county. It revoked a policy requiring that people live in Boulder County for six months in order to obtain housing services. It also reconfigured its shelter stay limits.

“People who engage with the Reserved Bed program are not limited in the number of stays, and people who choose not to stay consistently at the shelter are limited to 90 nights per year,” HSBC spokesperson Alice Kim said.

Because there is now a mechanism for people who choose not to engage with countywide services, officials argue there is no need for a weather-triggered severe weather shelter — aside from nights that are considered to be critical weather conditions.

Brenda Joy, right, gives a man a hot lunch in Central Park in Boulder on November 12, 2021, Circle of Love is a nonprofit that provides soup and hot meals for boulder’s unhoused. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Critical weather conditions occur when the National Weather Service predicts a temperature of 10 degrees or lower and/or 6 inches or more of snow, according to a staff memo for Tuesday’s Boulder City Council meeting.

“The change in this policy will allow the system to offer wider access to shelter and services,” the staff memo states. “It also is designed to best meet the needs of frequent shelter utilizers.”

The City Council is scheduled to receive an update on these changes and winter shelter usage in its next meeting. In addition to the policy changes, there are four new members of the City Council, at least some of whom expressed an interest in learning more.

HSBC argues the recent changes to the system’s eligibility criteria for shelter stays will provide greater access, but advocates say it won’t go far enough. Though the shelter offers grace nights, shelter residents are still required to go through the county’s coordinated entry screening program. This is offered in person and by phone in Boulder and by phone in Longmont.

Additionally, unless Boulder’s new City Council acts swiftly to create a severe weather shelter overflow and day services, “we are going to see more people outside than any other year before,” according to Jen Livovich, founder and executive director of outreach group Feet Forward. The organization hosts food and clothes distribution events every Tuesday near the Boulder Bandshell.

Livovich worries people will hit their 90-day limit without understanding there are no more specific severe weather shelter beds. HSBC hopes its Coordinated Outreach Team will aid in communication efforts and ensure people are prepared and make plans in advance of winter storms.

To supplement its 140 shelter beds, Boulder is using about $200,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding to cover the cost of hotel rooms for shelter residents who are at a higher risk for COVID-19. On critical weather nights, it intends to move up to an additional 20 people to hotels, subject to availability.

“I think that we don’t have adequate bed space even with the 20 and eventual 40 hotel vouchers for people who need to access the shelter in inclement weather,” Livovich said. “Those hotel vouchers are only used for older shelter clients with health conditions to make more of the shelter’s 140 beds available. They will not just be passed out to anyone, especially not people accessing services for the winter.”

Livovich, who is formerly unhoused herself and has been pushing for change in the region for years, said she’s curious to see how the new Boulder City Council majority and the new leadership at the Boulder Shelter will affect the services Boulder offers.

With the results of the recent City Council election, the majority of councilmembers have expressed support for additional services for those experiencing homelessness.

Further, Greg Harms, longtime executive director of the Boulder Shelter, resigned in September. The shelter’s board of directors named Spencer Downing,  who previously worked for the Center in Hollywood and Social Venture Partners Boulder County, as the interim director.

Lafayette resident Brenda Joy and her Circle of Love group began coordinating to provide meals for Boulder’s unhoused residents, and that effort will continue as the weather cools. The group distributes food — any hot, nutritious meals with protein — multiple times a week at the Boulder Bandshell.

The effort has grown quickly since it began about a year ago.

Initially, Joy said she went out “completely naive,” particularly in terms of the challenges facing those living outside.

“I didn’t really understand all the complications that people go through living out in weather,” she said. “For our group, nothing changes. If there’s a blizzard, we go out. We’ve never missed a day.”

According to data being presented to Boulder’s City Council on Tuesday, five Boulder County residents deemed “transient/homeless” died from hypothermia in 2020.

Last month, 33-year-old Jessica Aldama and her newborn baby died in a tent where they were living in an open space area near 5847 Arapahoe Ave. The Boulder County Coroner’s Office has not yet released the autopsy report with details including cause and manner of death for Aldama or her baby.

“There needs to be a day shelter where people can get out of the weather,” Joy added. “You might as well take care of them before anything dire happens.”

For a list of services in Boulder, visit bit.ly/30qcsT0. For a list of services in Longmont, visit bit.ly/3Ca0DgE.


If you watch

What: Boulder City Council meeting

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Residents can watch the meeting on Boulder’s YouTube channel or on Channel 8.

Agenda: bit.ly/3DZPq4u

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