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In the year since Boulder City Council agreed to spend almost $3 million over two years on a variety of measures to help with enforcement of its urban camping ban, the city reports clearing 389 camping sites and 106 tons of debris.

The money approved by the City Council in April 2021 went toward establishing an urban park ranger program, a downtown ambassador program in partnership with the Downtown Boulder Partnership, an internal team to clear encampments and a dedicated team within the Boulder Police Department to support all the efforts.

The long-term goals of the pilot program include:

  • No unsanctioned camping public spaces;
  • Individuals experiencing homelessness are connected to Coordinated Entry services;
  • Access to public space and public infrastructure is not impeded;
  • Reduction in crime and disorder in designated areas of emphasis;
  • Visitors have access to knowledgeable resources or city services;
  • Maintenance crews are able to safely access critical infrastructure in public spaces;
  • Waterways are free of contamination; and
  • Users of public space report feeling safe and welcome.

However, the first year of the pilot program has shown varied success, according to data in an update released by the city.

In early 2022, for example, there was a brief decline in the number of encampment reports, but the numbers have risen significantly in April and May. In April, the number of reports neared 350 with that number jumping to closer to 400 in May.

Similarly, the city reports that calls for Boulder Police Department service in “high-encampment zones,” such as along Goose Creek and the Boulder Creek and Civic Center area, are increasing. The report shows the year-to-year percentage change but not the number of calls for service. The city staff members who could provide more information either were out of the office or did not respond to a request for comment.

Referrals to the county’s Coordinated Entry screening process, which is required to access most services, did trend up at the end of 2021. The city notes that the Boulder Targeted Homelessness Engagement and Referral Effort (BTHERE) referred anywhere from 30 to 50 people to Coordinated Entry in each of the final four months of the year.

That effort has been paused, however, while the BTHERE team is transferred to the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless.

In its report, Boulder staff acknowledge that the upward trend in reporting could have more correlation with the increased communication to the public about where to report encampments than the actual number of encampments.

But the report also notes that the goals of the pilot program aren’t easy ones to accomplish.

“These goals are aspirational, and in many cases, they will be difficult to fully achieve,” the report states.

“It is important for us to be clear that individuals experiencing homelessness in public places is not the issue,” the report states. “However, the day-to-day living and belongings — tents, clothing, bicycles, shopping carts, etc. — that some individuals are storing in the floodplain, public areas or rights of way pose a significant hazard and in many cases impede access for all the public to enjoy.”

Some of the programs, such as the downtown ambassadors, got off the ground quickly and have proven successful by the city’s evaluation.

The program has performed more than 50,000 hospitality contacts, 10,000 business contacts and almost 3,000 welfare checks. They have picked up almost 800 bags of trash and cleaned up biohazard waste from more than 100 humans and animals, the report notes.

Because of impacts from the pandemic and continued staffing shortages in the city, the police unit and team of city park rangers have only recently been hired.

For some local service providers, the report is an indication that the city’s program isn’t working.

“Every person who works in unhoused services or mental health will tell you that the more we terrorize people, make them feel unsafe, make them feel unwelcome and unwanted — the more we do that, the harder it is for us to achieve any of our goals related to stability and housing,” said Lisa Sweeney-Miran, executive director of the Mother House.

Sweeney-Miran also is a plaintiff in the recently filed ACLU lawsuit against the city, which challenges Boulder’s bans on camping and tents in public spaces.

Instead of additional police enforcement, Boulder should invest in trauma-informed care, safe campsites and parking, shelter beds that are safe and welcoming and meaningful paths into permanent supportive housing, she argued.

“We need social workers and service providers, not police officers,” Sweeney-Miran said.

In the City Council Agenda Committee meeting on Monday, Mayor Pro Tem Rachel Friend requested the report, which appeared in the information section of Tuesday’s City Council agenda, be discussed further in an upcoming meeting.

The city agreed and is planning to do so, though the date has not yet been decided.

Boulder provides information on its homelessness strategy, including data on the number of encampments that have been cleared and the locations, online at