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That's what she said

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New Initiatives in Boulder for the Homeless


By

Isabel McDevitt, Bridge House Executive Director (images from the Bridge House website-http://boulderbridgehouse.org/)

At a PLAN-Boulder forum on Friday, March 8, a panel of local experts on homelessness discussed a couple of promising new initiatives for the homeless—Bridge House’s Ready to Work program, and its Day Resources Center. Panelist Isabel McDevitt, the executive director of Bridge House, revealed that a survey it conducted indicated 55 percent of homeless people in Boulder want jobs. McDevitt said that the Ready to Work program has been operating for about a year and offers a guaranteed, 20 hour a week job for a six months period to anyone who is willing, “clean” (that is, drug free), and sober. It pays $8 an hour at first and then $9 an hour during the later months. The participants are required to save at least a quarter of their earnings, and they receive support services and management of their cases. Two hundred people have applied to the program, twelve have graduated into regular employment, and ten have moved into permanent housing.

Bridge House clients in the Ready to Work program

McDevitt said that the Ready to Work program has contracted with the City of Boulder and the Boulder Housing Authority for various types of maintenance work. It intends to expand soon into food service. Although it initially provided work to its customers for free in order to establish credibility, it now breaks even on its employment operations—while needing contributions for the supportive services for participants.

In October of 2012, Bridge House also started a Day Resources Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the annex of the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Boulder. The center offers comprehensive intake and assessment, case management, and services from various providers, such as the Boulder County Mental Health Center and ARC. McDevitt said 386 different individuals had used the Day Resources Center a total of 1,555 times.

The other panelists were Dennis Fee, formerly homeless, now a supervisor of the Ready to Work program at Bridge House; Greg Harms, executive director of the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless; and Karen Rahn, director of the City of Boulder’s Department of Housing and Human Services. They agreed that the homeless population in the City of Boulder totals about 750 and appears to have remained about the same over recent years. Harms said that the Ready to Work program and Day Resources Center had not had any discernible effect on the demand for beds at the shelter, but he nevertheless praised them as worthwhile enterprises that have significantly improved the condition of the homeless. Rahn noted that Boulder County adopted its 10 year plan to reduce homelessness in 2008 and that much more work remains to be done.

A member of the audience, Boulder City Councilmember K.C. Becker, asserted that a number of her constituents have complained about being deterred from enjoying the Civic Center area by the behavior of the homeless people who tend to congregate there. McDevitt, Rahn, and Harms said that a group of social service organizations is studying that problem and is expected to make eight or nine recommendations to the city. One of them, Harms said, may be a minimal code of conduct for homeless people that will lead various social service organizations to withhold services to violators.

Others in the audience asked whether relatively generous services for homeless people in Boulder attracted them to this area. While conceding that people will gravitate to the places where the services are provided, the panelists generally did not conclude that Boulder functions as a magnet for the homeless. Harms said that homeless shelter managers in Denver usually assert that homeless people on balance tend to migrate from Boulder to Denver. Fee, however, recalled that, when he became homeless in Longmont, he moved to Boulder because he felt it would be more accommodating.

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