Who do we serve, how do we serve them?

August 2016
Written by
Isabel McDevitt


Boulder is at a crossroads. We are confused. We are torn. We are overwhelmed. We also have an opportunity. With the right dialogue and leadership – now could be the time we, as a community, can gain clarity on our approach to homeless services.

Many stakeholders are craving a conversation, an answer, for how we serve the homeless community. In our recent Bridge House newsletter,  I spoke of solutions – the need to integrate people, the need to be strategic and nimble in our approach. But we need to go deeper. We need to ask ourselves a tough question – who do we serve and how do we serve them?

This week alone I can point to 3 community interactions that lead me to believe that the time is now to convene. I was interviewed as part of a story about the growing transient/homeless population on the Hill. Click here to read the full article. I attended a meeting regarding camping in Nederland led by city officials, service providers, residents and the forestry services; I was part of the City of Boulder’s bus tour to share more with community stakeholders about current transitional living programs and possible sites for more. Click here to watch more.

On the face of it, it is controversial to suggest we need to decide who we can help and who we can’t. We are a community that values humanity, equal access and, even, eccentricity. However, we can’t be all things to all people. And, in fact, currently, by default, we already aren’t serving everyone in need due to lack of resources and, despite many efforts, coordination. What is happening is worse than tackling the issue head on; worse than having a strategic conversation and decision making process determining who we serve; worse than having a planning process to agree upon a continuum of services for homeless people in Boulder. What is happening is we are offering a fragmented safety net that needs to be woven together. The good news is, we can do this! We need to do it together – service providers, business leaders, city officials, citizens, faith communities.

The three aforementioned interactions point to a desire to have this conversation. An opportunity, I believe, we should seize. There is a willingness to come together and think outside the box. On the Hill businesses are not suggesting they shoo homeless people away, they are asking for their property to be respected and for more solutions for those seeking help. In Nederland, on the heels of the Cold Springs fire, they are understandably scared of more danger and damage yet also want to be communicative and constructive with those who camp in their backyard. And, the City of Boulder, is coming to the table with potential sites for more creative housing options. The themes of these 3 examples and many others, is that stakeholders want to help, we want to support our neighbors, we want to be an open community. We also want to have minimal expectations for engagement from those who seek help and some basic civility and respect for the community from those who are passing through.

Bridge House, as a service provider, is leading by doing. Our programs balance access to basic needs with expectations and opportunities for engagement. We would like to go further. Email me at [email protected] if you want to be part of conversation for the future.

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