Adding the Day Shelter to Boulder Shelter for the Homeless will be key to getting people off the streets and into housing, says shelter CEO

Boulder Shelter for the Homeless where Boulder’s will expand to accomodate daytime services including lunch, mental health clinicians, showers and career services

After more than a year of searching, the Boulder City Council voted 9-0 to locate the city’s new Day Shelter for unhoused residents at the current Boulder Shelter for the homeless last month. KGNU’s Alexis Kenyon spoke with the CEO of Boulder’s Shelter for the Homeless, Michael Bloc, who says expanding services at the current location will give them a lot of tools they have needed to get more people off the street and into housing.

 

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    Untitled Alexis Kenyon

Interview Transcript:

Michael Block: Well, first of all, we’re really excited. This evolution has a lot more to do with what the city and the county want to do in terms of addressing homelessness in the evenings.

The good news is we can leverage the facilities that exist, which are really robust, like having a large number of showers and laundry services and having a kitchen on-site in a way that a brand new facility downtown would really struggle with. You could argue that there’s a better location. I think you can always make that argument about any homeless service project. But leveraging the facility that is so appropriate for providing these types of services just makes good sense, especially in the long run in terms of really being able to meet those basic needs, which I think is really important to try and gain the trust of the individuals we’re trying to reach.

Alexis Kenyon: What kinds of rules are you going to have in the shelter? I know from people I have talked to that a lot of the reasons they don’t go to shelters is because of the rules, you know, they can’t bring their dog or they can’t sleep next to their partner.

Michael Block: So what you’re really describing in the aggregate is the difficulty of expecting congregate settings to be able to serve everyone. And that’s really important to remember. One of the reasons why we decided to do this was because we were going to have enough housing resources.

It’s a much better landscape to meet everybody’s individual needs, whether they’re a couple, whether they have addiction issues, whether they have behavioral issues that might arise in a congregate setting that wouldn’t arise if they’re not in a congregate setting. If they have a dog. It’s really an opportunity for the entire homeless community, not just for those who can come through our door.

Now, in terms of specific issues around rules and safety, this is always the biggest struggle. The best-case scenario is if we had no rules. And we could just depend on common sense that allowed us to give as many services to as many people as we possibly can. When you’ve delivered services to thousands of people a year over the course of 40 years, we’ve learned that you can’t always depend on common sense.

And so it’s clear that every rule eliminates somebody who can’t follow that rule. So, all I can do is assure everyone who has this question that we’re really mindful about what we consider acceptable behavior and what we don’t consider acceptable behavior.

And in terms of the type of services that we want to provide during the day that are different than overnight, we’re going to make accommodations for people with dogs, for instance, in a way that we are unable to do at night. The issues of couples coming to the shelter that would then not be able to sleep together in a congregate setting, they could come to the day center, of course, and use our services.

If I could expand just a little bit on this, I would say that when you talk about the barriers to accessing services, there are a lot of services in town that have very strict rules around who can even come in the door. That is not our approach. We want to serve everybody. If you’ve been homeless for one day or 10 years, you’re our responsibility. We want to have answers for you.

When you talk about the barriers to accessing services, there are a lot of services in town that have very strict rules around who can even come in the door. That is not our approach.

And so we have lots of policies that make sure that door is open as wide as possible. If you have a substance abuse issue, we consider you our responsibility to try and have an answer for. If you have behavioral health issues, that’s our client. If you have medical issues, that’s our client. And there are so many different services in town that are restrictive in terms of how wide their doors open.

I’ll just say one more thing. The city did a survey this summer. They surveyed about 170 unsheltered individuals, and twice as many people said they didn’t access shelter services because they didn’t feel safe, not because of the rules. And so it really reinforces this notion of being really careful about the assumptions we make and really understanding that safety is really important too.

Alexis Kenyon: Tell me about what you were up against as a shelter that was only open at night.

Michael Block: Our mission is to create avenues to housing for our community’s homeless adult community.

And so the biggest indicator of our success is how many exits we can report. How many interactions can we have that lead to a successful exit from homelessness? And so that, at its core, is most exciting because there are a lot of resources that are embedded in the entire package that are going to allow us to do that.

Whether that’s reunification with family, paying rental arrears so that someone doesn’t become homeless, making sure that tenant supportive services are available to people once they get housed so they can stay housed, they’re getting the proper supports so they can remain housed. This robust housing package that’s part of the entire picture of what we’re going to be offering is what excites us, I think, the very most.

But I worked on the floor of the shelter, and you would encounter people and have conversations with them about the things they could do for themselves once they leave the shelter. Whether that’s to look for a job, or whether that’s pursue behavioral health issues, medical issues, addiction treatment, or housing resources, you would have them walk out the door and hope, right? I mean, think how exciting it is for a shelter worker to not have to hope.

I worked on the floor of the shelter, and you would encounter people and have conversations with them about the things they could do for themselves once they leave the shelter.  Whether that’s to look for a job, or whether that’s pursue behavioral health issues, medical issues, addiction treatment, or housing resources, you would have them walk out the door and hope, right? I mean, think how exciting it is for a shelter worker to not have to hope.

All you have to do is say, ‘oh my God, our mental health provider’s going to be here at nine o’clock in the morning. Can I sign you up for that appointment?’ Or, you know, ‘Our job training will be here at noon. Why don’t we sign you up for that appointment?’

All you have to do is say, ‘oh my God, our mental health provider’s going to be here at nine o’clock in the morning. Can I sign you up for that appointment?’ Or, you know, ‘Our job training will be here at noon. Why don’t we sign you up for that appointment?’

And so that continuum and that continuity of being able to not just sort of, ‘Well, we’re done with you at eight in the morning, good luck. And you’re going to have to take three buses to get to the thing. I hope you agree with me that you need and can pursue it. And then maybe I’ll see you tonight.’

And so, I think that’s awfully exciting too, And I think it really provides an opportunity for us to change, rather than be a manager of a shelter service, which is really critical, right? I mean, this is the ER of homeless services, what’s going on here every single night. It’s really critical. But to be able to take it to the next level and be more engaged in helping people realize their goals, their pathways to greater self-actualization. That’s really exciting, too.

Alexis Kenyon: Yeah, i can see how there would be a lot of energy spent on that connection between one facility and the next.

Michael Block: I heard of a study, I met some folks up in Fort Collins, this was many years ago, and they did a study and tried to figure out where homeless people are actually spending their time and the amount of time. I don’t want to misquote it, because it was quite a while ago, but the amount of time that they spent simply moving around from place to place, or appointment to appointment, and waiting was remarkable. Right?

It’s amazing they could get anything done. And so that, that’s awfully exciting too, especially when there are issues of mobility and even access to reliable transportation. Even though we have a robust bus system, you know, having to make appointments, follow appointments. I mean, it just makes a lot more sense.

Alexis Kenyon: Tell me about what kinds of things you actually have to change in the shelter to make this a day shelter. Also, what are the services you’re going to provide?

Michael Block: Well, in the most general sense, we’re not going to have two services, like night and day services. We really are trying to view this as it’s one building, one program, and that there’ll be no start and finish anymore.

But this means adding staff. This means adding folks who will be coordinating with the partner agencies that are going to be providing services here. This means hiring additional maintenance crew. This means additional kitchen staff in order to provide an additional, probably in the neighborhood of 50,000 meals by adding a lunch service. This means making sure the impact even externally to the shelter, so we’re, we have a clean facility even on our grounds. Adding that sort of staff, and of course, we have to rearrange everything about our entire scheduling system. And how we run backups and how many people are on shift  and how many employees we need in general. It is top to bottom and an enormous lift for us.

It’s an approximate 30 percent increase in our annual budget. And so, we have to implement that in a matter of months, which requires a lot of thought. But, we’re forging ahead and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. So, we are excited.

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Alexis Kenyon

Alexis Kenyon is an experienced radio reporter with more than 15 years of experience creating compelling, sound-rich radio stories for news outlets across the country. Kenyon has master's degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism in radio broadcast and photojournalism. She has worked in KGNU's news department since 2021 as a reporter, editor, and daily news producer. In all her work, she strives to produce thought-provoking, trustworthy journalism that makes other people's stories feel personal. In addition to audio production, Kenyon runs KGNU's news internship program and oversees the department's digital engagement.
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