“If you’re homeless in Boulder and you have a pet, you will break the law if you don’t shelter your pet, and you will break the law if you shelter yourself.”
Those who work to raise the issue of Boulderites experiencing homelessness woke Sunday morning to ice on their tents outside of Boulder’s Municipal Building as temperatures dipped below freezing. A sleep-out was coordinated in Boulder to defy the local camping ban and to show solidarity with those who sleep out everyday.
The Boulder Municipal Building – where Boulder City Council meetings are held – was the target area for the action held in conjunction with an annual National Day of Action. Other cities participated across the nation such as Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Washington DC. Participants called on Boulder City Council to more aggressively address the lack of affordable housing. Boulder officials have long discussed affordable housing, but to date have not reached solutions acceptable to groups who support those living on the street.
Gathering at Boulder County Courthouse to give speeches, the group then marched to the Municipal Building where a simulated community was erected. During speeches, members of the advocacy group Boulder Rights Watch (BRW) called for City Council to move in the direction of solutions. Morey Bean pointed to Denver that he praised for moving in a positive direction with the recently approved Beloved Community Village in the RiNo Arts District, “We’re hoping that once that program becomes successful that Boulder City Council will offer up some city ground somewhere here to replicate the same thing.” The Beloved tiny home village was approved last week by Denver City Council as a six month temporary project for people who may need transitional housing from the street, “Boulder’s supposed to be this innovation place, so we’re hoping that we’ll watch their example and take it up for ourselves sooner than later.”
Boulder is considered the worst place in the state to be homeless, a concept that is often the narrative of people living on the street as well as research completed by the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. Bean affirmed what he has heard on the street, “When the Ft. Collins police force say move along [to people living on the street], they’ll say move along to Boulder, and if the Nederland guys say it, they say move along to Boulder, when our cops say move along, they say move along to Denver.”
“These laws that are directed against the homeless make it hard for people to survive on the streets,” BRW member Darren O’Connor educated passersby, “These laws are being passed all across the country and making it basically illegal to be homeless. And the criminalization of homelessness such as these laws, they create barriers to exiting homelessness.”
O’Connor described the further cycle of challenges once a conviction for camping within the city is on a person’s criminal record, “You might not be able to get into housing. You might not be able to get a job because you’ve got to check a box that says that you’ve been convicted of a crime.”
Several people who planned to sleep outside that night joined the group to share their stories. One person said that he had no criminal record before coming to Boulder, but that he had about ten convictions for sleeping outside since arriving.
Another set up netting for shelter next to the protest camp and said he just needed to catch up on sleep.
As activists were packing up, Boulder Police stopped by to let all campers know that police had been aware of the tent village, but just wanted to know if everyone would be leaving. No one was ticketed.
BRW member Mike Fitzgerald who once lived without housing in Boulder told The Nation Report that he and this reporter were sitting in the very same location of the Municipal Building five years earlier during a time a similar action took place outside of the very building, “We’re doing the same things with the same results.” Fitzgerald expressed frustration with how little has moved in the direction of more permanent solutions, “I’ve been asking for [a safe area] since 2007 and nobody wants to do it. Churches have done everything they possibly can. We have 26 congregations doing our day, our night, our residents, and our women’s shelters. We have a 160-bed shelter that isn’t [open] 365 days. I don’t care if its 80 degrees or minus 36, it’s rough out here.” Fitzgerald advocated for a nonprofit managing a tiny home or tent community, “If we let the city know that a nonprofit can put this together and manage it, the city can stay out of it completely. It doesn’t have to be tiny homes, it can be tents. And we can build from there. But an area we know we can go and no one is going to ask you to leave at 3:00 in the morning. That’s what we proved tonight. That it can be done. No trouble. We’re out of here. Nobody will know we’re here. Not a footstep left.”
BRW member Roxanne Peterson also spent the night in a tent in front of the Municipal Building, “It was really, really cold. I just don’t know how people can manage night after night in this cold weather and I’m sure it gets much colder than this in the dead of winter. It was unbearable. I had a really crappy sleeping bag and I suffered immensely. I would not recommend it to anybody but it was for a good cause. I think we raised some awareness maybe and I think we get a little idea of what people who are homeless have to go through on a regular basis and nobody should have to deal with this. It’s not right.”
At conclusion of the event, one Boulder Police officer offered a blanket to the person under the netting, but after campers left, he was ticketed to appear in court later this month.