A November cold front enters Boulder. Snow falls, temperatures hit record lows, and ice forms. Winter has arrived. City residents can warm up in their homes, but there is a population of residents that do not have homes.
These are the groups of people that porch on the grass along the creek path, congregating because they cannot afford homes, or perhaps just do not want to live in them.
The smells, occasional muttering, and dirty faces that emanate from these groups make students and families alike uncomfortable.
These people are Boulder’s homeless and transient populations, and where they sleep in the winter is often mysterious.
They can ride the RTD to a Denver shelter, or they can hide in the parks after dark.
But many of them will be arrested.
“There are groups of people that tend to congregate around the creek,” said Boulder City Spokeswoman Sarah Huntley.
“But there are some provisions, ordinances, and codes that we have in effect in Boulder, that do limit that behavior for everybody, not specific to transients or homeless,” Huntley said.
A trip to Boulder’s Central Park Bandshell along the creek sheds light on this subculture of transients.
A young African-American girl in tattered clothes made eye contact. She identified herself as Auvrey, and insists that she does not have a last name.
She introduces her “group,” which consists of six homeless men. They were mostly older, bearded, and also tattered. They smoked cigarettes and drank beer with each other in silence. Covered in beards, blankets, and dirt.
“Cops don’t bother us too much. They check up on us to see if we’re doing illegal stuff, but not too much trouble.”
That is, until someone pulls out a sleeping bag.
According to Boulder City Government, it is illegal to “camp.” That means erecting a tent, using a vehicle as a residence, or even using a sleeping bag overnight.
In fact, the park area is closed from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., except for people crossing through.
Violations of this law result in fines, summons, and even arrests.
In addition to camping, public alcohol consumption anywhere and smoking in some areas also merit these punishments.
It seems that the entire lifestyle of the Boulder transient is illegal and punishable.
Lowry said homeless and transient people sometimes want to be arrested, so they commit petty crimes such as drinking alcohol or smoking in attempts to get themselves thrown into “the drunk tank.”
After all, jail provides a lit shelter with food, water and heat for the night.
“Generally, when we’re talking about transients, we’re dealing with addiction or mental health issues, but they understand the rules…and they know what’s coming,” Lowry said.
Another trip down to the Bandshell, and transient “spokespeople” of sorts Ron Green and “Hobbit” approached.
They were older white men, smelly, and sober. And they shivered in the cold.
Hobbit recounts how last week Boulder cops “harassed” him until he left his sleeping bag.
“Boulder has a dark side that people don’t know about,” Green said. “It really doesn’t care about the homeless.”
Perhaps he said that because he is cold, wet, and hungry. But at the same time, perhaps he did not know about the measures Boulder has taken to accommodate the homeless and transient populations.
According to Michael Lowry, Supervisor of the Professional Standards Unit at the CU Police Department, “If someone’s coming into a building in the day to stay warm, and they’re not causing a present problem, our officers have more pressing issues.”
“Our response to homeless people is usually complaint driven,” Lowry said.
“In 2014, the amount the City of Boulder allocated for homeless programs and assistance was $325,000,” Sarah Huntley said. “This is money granted through the Human Services Fund to assist agencies that specifically serve the homeless or those at high risk of being homeless, or who designate a specific amount from their HSF funding toward homeless services.”
There are two services in Boulder that work to help the homeless: they are The Bridge House, providing day-service for homeless people, and the Boulder Homeless Shelter, open mostly in the evenings.
“They are mostly public health and safety concerns that come into play when you have homeless people.”
But this winter, except for a few arrests, they will be living in the snow.
“They have the right to be there enjoying the creek, just as anybody else,” Huntley said.