Boulder’s homeless residents rail against “War on Homelessness”

A housed woman looking through her wallet after walking past a homeless man. Source: Felix Huth, Flickr.

A common interaction between a housed woman and a homeless man–the exchange of money. Source: Felix Huth, Flickr.

For the listening post assignment I talked to five people at the Downtown Boulder Fall Fest about homelessness in Boulder. I was uncomfortable during my three hours on Pearl Street because I don’t identify with the micro-cultures these people are in.

As a housed and recent Boulder resident, I don’t have the experiences my interviewees have about homelessness in Boulder. However, this assignment showed me how different the priorities of the homeless and the housed can be.

The two homeless men I met—Cyler Hardin, 23, and Dave, the Can Man, 56—mentioned, what Hardin called, Boulder’s “war against the homeless.”

They described this war differently, but classism and stories of overloaded services for the homeless were in both of their descriptions. These men said they would risk being jailed for camping when the alternative was an overpopulated shelter. Dave also said he wished the legal system would spend more time helping mentally ill homeless people.

Two of the housed people I interviewed were Roberta Backlund, 55, of east Boulder and Steve Pyle of the Twin Lakes community. Over the last decade they said they have witnessed many population trends among Boulderites, but the disparity in wealth has never been greater.

Backlund and Pyle mentioned affordable housing initiatives in their neighborhoods. Several of Backlund’s neighbors oppose it, but she can’t understand why, said Backlund. On the other hand, Pyle said he sympathizes with both sides of the argument concerning the possible complex around Twin Lakes.

Ailsa, a 23-year-old who grew up in Boulder and went to college in London, England, said homeless people in London sold a magazine to earn money and she wonders if that program could help here. Ailsa and Backlund said they wanted Boulderites to be more aware of the deaths of homeless people due to exposure and violence.

While covering this beat, I hope to develop stories on the tension over affordable housing and investigate what services are available to mentally ill homeless people. It would also be interesting to see how an in-depth profile on a  homeless person would affect discussions about homelessness here. If there is going to be any change between the classes in Boulder, I believe it is necessary for the housed and the homeless to get to know each other.

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