Boulder is wasting millions of dollars every year arresting homeless people for things like sleeping.

With three Colorado cities ranking in the top 50 nationally for homelessness, it’s fairly obvious that The Centennial State has a huge socioeconomic crisis on its hands.

However, no city handles this worse than Boulder.

The highly affluent, mostly white hippie haven writes far more tickets for illegal camping than any other city in the state, according to a scathing report from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law's Homeless Advocacy Policy Project.

"They [the City Council] keep saying that they want to do something, but that keeps coming down to criminalization," noted Bill Cohen, a Boulder attorney who advocates for homeless rights in a Daily Camera interview. "It just makes things worse. It makes it harder for the person who is trying to improve their situation, trying to get a job, trying to get benefits, because of that criminal record."

The report specifically looked at Boulder’s “anti-homeless” ordinance citations, which include trespassing, violating parks hours regulations, public urination, panhandling and camping. It’s no real secret that any of these so-called “offences” are geared towards policing homelessness, and virtually all of those violations are committed at by homeless individuals at much higher rates out of mere circumstance. From the homeless point of view, the state has either outright or vicariously criminalized the majority of their basic needs; the simple acts of sleeping, eating and using the restroom are all punishable by law.

Denver isn’t much better though. Between 2010 and 2014, Denver (who has the largest homeless population in the state) wrote nearly 10,000 citations against homeless people and the number of citations increased by nearly one third during that stretch. Boulder issued 1,767 tickets for illegal camping alone over that same time period, the vast majority of which were issued to homeless individuals, according to Metro Denver Homeless Initiative.

"Giving someone a ticket and putting them into the criminal justice system is significantly worse than other types of contact," explained Nantiya Ruan, a law professor at DU, also to the Daily Camera. “By writing someone a ticket that they cannot pay, you are setting up a debtors' prison, and then they spend time in jail, and then they can't get a job. It's a perpetuation of the cycle of poverty."

To keep from being cited or bothered in general some homeless individuals instead head into the canyons and the national forest where “camping” is legal, further endangering themselves to the risks of exposure with even less access to prompt medical services.
According to the Daily Camera, the Boulder County Sheriff's Office says it costs $69 a day to house inmates. The DU report estimates the cost of Boulder criminalizing homelessness at a price closer to $1 million from 2010-14.

To put that in perspective, Boulder has spent $800,000 on emergency shelter and $1.5 million on non-profit agencies like Bridge House that provide case management and other services. The city has also spent $8 million, over three decades on homeless initiatives like the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Attention Homes, Bridge House, Safehouse and Emergency Family Assistance Association amongst others.

"Using the justice system is a really, really expensive remedy, and it doesn't stop it," Colorado Sheriff Joe Pelle explained. "It doesn't change the behavior. You can write these guys tickets all day, and they wad them up and throw them away. They don't care."
They don’t care because a ticket issuing debt is useless in the larger scheme of things when an individual has more important things to consider like where their next meal is going to come from and where they can legally sleep without being rearrested …

The cyclical nature of patrolling, arresting and housing inmates in general would seem to virtually pay for further homeless initiatives and housing projects if a shift in policy were to happen. An amalgam of social programs (from mental health services, to the successful Right 2 Dream Too initiative set forth in other cities, etc.) would be something to consider rather than Boulder’s current model of feeding into the chronic socio-incarceration complex.

Because while Boulder certainly prides itself on being a nice place to live if you rake in six figures, it can’t continue to ignore the fact that lower income citizens are citizens too. Instead of being a place where people flaunt their wealth, it should be a place where people use it wisely to help people in need. Otherwise, our beloved liberal hippie rep is kinda caput …