How to better help the homeless in Boulder

In very simple terms, it is more about giving a hand up than a hand out. Bridge House and other service providers in Boulder have worked hard to provide basic needs for the homeless and working poor in Boulder. Food, emergency shelter, and access to medical care have been the core of the services we have provided for more than 10 years. But our own experience and that of other communities around the country has taught us that there is more we must do.

We know that there are three things that must be provided to help those in our community who are living on the streets to get back to a stable life: housing, employment, and services. While organizations such as the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Boulder Housing Partners, and Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow (BOHO) focus primarily on housing, Bridge House has placed its focus on employment and services.

Late last year we started the Ready to Work (RTW) program. In a nutshell, this program is designed to provide supported employment to people who have been chronically unemployed and homeless. Trainees in the program work 20 hours a week and are paid $8 per hour. A Bridge House employee supervises the crew on projects primarily doing work for the City of Boulder, on the Pearl Street Mall, in the University Hill area, and on the Boulder Creek Path. RTW trainees are required to save 30% of their earnings, maintain sobriety and submit to weekly drug and alcohol testing, and work with our case manager to help them get ready to re-enter the mainstream workforce. Trainees are expected to be ready for a job in the “real world” after six months in the program.

As many of you know, Bridge House has been searching for more space to operate its programs for some time now. Last year we looked at the possibility of purchasing a building at 1724 Broadway in Boulder, and held a “good neighbor” meeting to learn about concerns from the neighborhood. And we found that neighbors were indeed very concerned about Bridge House moving to the location. Engineering studies we did on the building added to the concerns, and our board decided not to move ahead with the purchase.

When we reflected on that situation, and on the strong resistance that Boulder Housing Partners has seen with their proposal for a project to provide housing for chronically homeless, we decided to take a different approach. Our day shelter and service center for the homeless has blended into our neighborhood at Broadway and Pine with little difficulty, and our strongest partners have always been the churches, synagogues, and temples that comprise the faith community in Boulder. We have turned to them in our search for additional space, and have also leased some office space for our non-program staff in a building close to our old carriage house. We are now in discussions with our faith partners in an attempt to find additional space for our programs.

Our dream for the future is to expand our supportive employment program and to work to make the services that our clients need to lift themselves up more effective, more efficient, and more accessible. Too often we see clients struggle to get access to services that are scattered all over town and that provide little in the way of coordination. We hope to work with our local community to create a service center, perhaps only one or two days a week, where our clients can find all the services they need under one roof.

I know from my conversations with many in our community that people are dissatisfied with the prospect of continuing to put band aids on the problem of homelessness. I want to live in a community that not only believes that it is unacceptable for hundreds of our fellow citizens to have no place to legally sleep at night, but actively engages in solving the problems of homelessness through housing, employment, and providing the services needed so that every person can have a home.

Thanks to all of you for your support of Bridge House. Your continued support will make the difference.


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