This summer much discussion has ensued about homelessness in Boulder. Questions like – who is homeless in our community; what are the best investments we can make to actually end homelessness in our community; what is the right balance between emergency and long term services; can we really move the needle on affordable housing in Boulder as both a homeless prevention strategy and solution; what is our role in the region; and what are reasonable expectations for a code of conduct for behavior for all citizens in Boulder – have swirled through conversations across Boulder.
The questions have been pondered in many different forums from meetings of service providers, conversations with clients, forums of advocates, and collaboratives of faith and business leaders. I have been fortunate to be part of many of these conversations as an active participant and observer. Many would assume that the sentiments of each group would differ widely based on their affiliation and perspective. The good news – we agree on more than we think.
Here is what we can agree on – Empathy and Expectation. Empathy to look at our those who are vulnerable and want to help and expectation that through opportunity people can help themselves.
Practically, all corners of the community are calling for –
- housing-based solutions across a spectrum of models, unit types and affordability;
- basic sheltering without gaps to both provide safe space for homeless people to be but also to relieve pressure on public spaces not meant for sheltering such as parks and libraries; and
- a recognition that those experiencing homelessness are citizens with rights and responsibilities to follow a code of conduct that supports community values. Of course, each group adds its own emphasis and focus but generally these areas demonstrate that we have more agreement than not.
As a pragmatist and optimist, I choose to focus on this 80% agreement I see across Boulder and to work toward action in these areas. I suggest we all do the same. No one said it would be easy to end homelessness. In fact, many don’t even believe it is possible. Perhaps it isn’t possible to eliminate the reality that a person or family many experience homelessness, but we can shorten the amount of time they are homeless and provide empathy, expectation and opportunity when someone falls on hard times. Focusing on real, tangible housing-based solutions, a safety-net without gaps, and treating people like people will go a long way toward this end.