Starting on September 26, Impact Hub Boulder will be one of 15 Impact Hubs participating in the week-long event series, Co-Creating The Future of Our Cities. The focus of the week will be on how our network of change makers, innovators, and problem solvers, can have more of an impact in our local communities. Our local impact topic, Co-Creating Boulder: EcoVillage to EcoVillage, will bring the community together to discuss our visions for the future, and design possible solutions to critical issues like homelessness and climate change.
On Thursday, September 29, Impact Hub Boulder will be hosting the EcoVillage to Eco-Village Community Design Charrette, where designers, architects, city planners, and community members will address the issue of homelessness in our community. From tiny homes to uber-affordable Hexayurts, participants will explore different solutions to the lacking number of housing and shelter options for Boulder’s homeless.
726 people were reported homeless in Boulder County by the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative’s (MDHI) 2016 Point-in-Time study. This is an increase from the 620 who were reported homeless in the 2015 MDHI study, and still does not reflect the true total number of homeless individuals in our community.
Although the city is working to address the issue through its Homelessness Strategy and Action Plan and Boulder County Ten Year Plan to Address Homelessness, community members and advocates are adamant that enough isn’t being done to solve the problem.
Recently, Members of City Council, the Human Relations Commission, and community guests toured several sites in Boulder that could potentially be used for transitional housing programs.
Morey Bean, an architect who planned the Community Design Charrette event and attended the 2016 Boulder Homelessness Tour, said he wants participants to focus on the three sites that the city deemed most promising. His goal is to explore how many people these sites could accommodate with different types of communities and structures.
As part of the event, a six-foot Stretch Hexayurt will be constructed at Impact Hub Boulder. This structure will give participants a first hand look at a sustainable and economic design that could be used on the sites and would fit the needs of the homeless community.
In February, Boulder City Council members traveled to Portland and Eugene, Oregon, where they saw how tiny homes are used in a transitional housing community for the homeless, said Bean.
Boulder City Councilwoman, Jan Burton, said the tiny home community that city council visited in Eugene, Oregon was set up so the residents were part of the management structure. She said she liked that it made residents accountable for the success of the community.
Burton also said this solution could be applicable to Boulder because more permanent housing solutions, like the Lee Hill complex for the chronically homeless, are extremely expensive and time consuming to build.
Lee Hill is a 31 single bedroom apartment complex in North Boulder, which opened in 2014 to provide housing for Boulder’s chronically homeless. One year later, the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless reported there were no complaint calls to law enforcement from people in the neighborhood regarding the building and its occupants.
Burton said although more permanent housing, like Lee Hill, should be the ultimate goal, tiny homes or more temporary structures on the proposed sites are a good solution until funding and locations for these permanent complexes can be put together.
“It’s hard for us to find that money and find that location again, but I think something temporary, like a tiny home building site, could really help us. Particularly before the winter sets in,” said Burton. “Is it the ultimate destination? Probably not, but it’s a good transition approach. I do think it would be safe living, and I think it could be fairly inexpensive.”
Mike Homner, who was previously homeless and is now an activist with the Facing Homelessness Boulder project, agrees and says these temporary communities could be the solution to providing immediate relief to homeless who are in danger of perishing on the streets in the harsh winter weather.
“When it’s snowing or raining, that’s a mansion,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s 38, 42, 50, 60 degrees. When you have precipitation? Hypothermia. And not only that, then your things are wet. How do you dry out?”
Even when people can protect themselves from hypothermia, wet belongings can breed mold, leading to sickness, and costly hospital visits, he said.
Through the event on September 29, Morey Bean said he wants to explore how Hexayurts and other types of temporary structures could be used to prevent this. He also wants the design materials produced at the event to be used to continue pressing city council on the issue, hopefully generating more support.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do as a community,” he said. “I’m hoping that the evening session will be a celebration of the possibilities, and that we’ll actually present some specific solutions that can show Boulder and provide a community vision for what our potential is.”