Challenging the city of Boulder’s lack of services for those who are faced with sleeping outside in below freezing temperatures, Darren O’Connor of Boulder Rights Watch, and Rev. Roger Wolsey of Wesley Chapel erected a tent outside of the Boulder Municipal Building on Wednesday night.
Defying Boulder’s municipal ordinance that prohibits such a shelter, or even a blanket for protection from the elements, the two said that they wanted to raise awareness of those who are left out in the cold after the city implemented changes to address homelessness beginning last spring. Currently an emergency shelter is made available only if temperatures fall below 20 degrees with no snow or 32 degrees accompanied by precipitation. Homeless rights activists say it’s a safety issue and that current policy falls short of needed services for those who may not survive a night of 21 degrees.
The two said they were willing to be ticketed or even risk arrest to get the attention of the Boulder community and officials of the challenges to surviving a night in the extreme cold as O’Connor expressed, “”It’s not like the people here are not affected and don’t know about it, but they hear talking [by city officials] about ‘Oh we’ve got this Path to Home Program’, and they’re reassured that we’re doing enough. They don’t know that on a night like tonight where you can freeze to death, yeah that’s helping some people, but there’s a whole bunch of folks who won’t get inside who can be ticketed for surviving.”
O’Connor said that earlier in the evening about five people were seen in Boulder’s Bandshell in Central Park whom he saw were trying to stay warm, but who were approached by police, and removed from the area, “Where are they going to go? Somewhere else. They just won’t have a windbreak. They won’t have cover. So even that [bandshell] which is not being used for anything tonight, can’t be a place for people to go.”
O’Connor talked about the resulting challenges facing those without shelter who are trying to find a job or housing, yet might have a criminal record for violations, which can escalate into impacts serious enough to be registered on Colorado’s Sex Offender List for urinating in public for example, “Simple things that we don’t think about when we’re indoors. Where are you going to go? You’re going to [urinate] somewhere. Maybe you get a sex crime ticket that goes with you for the rest of your life because you took a leak in Boulder where there were no bathrooms.”
O’Connor also talked about the difficulties in looking for work on no sleep, with no safe place to store belongings, and without a shower or clean clothes.
Rev. Wolsey who since 2009 has run a weekly program for youth to interact with those on the streets talked about how close many people are to homelessness than most realize and that the majority of people have less money in the bank than they would need if they were to lose their own housing, “Most of us spend most of our income on housing. We’re therefore one or two serious illnesses, injuries, accidents away from possibly being on the streets ourselves….a layoff, a firing, a divorce, or a relationship that could lead us to some depression, can lead us to drinking, and the next thing we know, we can’t hold a job, and we’re on the streets. It’s us. It’s us on the streets.” Wolsey acknowledged that he could find himself on the streets after looking at his own finances, “”We’re doing [the action] for ourselves. If you’ve already burned some bridges or you don’t have those bridges, [or if] family’s already gone, then you are on the streets.”
Both O’Connor and Wolsey mentioned Benjamin Harvey whose body was found early Christmas morning on the University of Colorado campus. He was known to be living in Boulder without housing although the cause of death has not been announced by the Coroner’s Office. A memorial service is planned for Harvey at Boulder’s Bandshell on the corner of Broadway and Canyon at 2 pm Sunday, December 31.