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Friday, April 19, 2024

In line with Safe Zones 4 Kids, Boulder changes its encampment removal policy – Boulder Daily Camera

Boulder has recently made some tweaks to its internal policy on removing homeless encampments with the goal of ramping up sweeps around schools and multi-use paths.

The city made these changes in alignment with the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot measure that passed last fall. Safe Zones asks the city to prioritize removing tents, propane tanks and other prohibited items within 500 feet of a school property line or within 50 feet of a multi-use path or sidewalk.

Boulder’s policy assigns differing priority scores to encampments based on numerous factors. Encampments can receive higher scores and be prioritized for removal if they are close to floodways, private residences and playgrounds, for example, or if they have visible heating elements, litter or evidence of drug use.

Even before these changes, encampments near schools already received one of the highest possible priority scores. Now, encampments near schools and walkways can be scored even more highly than before. The city has also added a provision to its policy stating the city can remove encampments immediately if they’re in those areas.

These changes were formalized on paper last month, but in practice, officials say the city has been changing how it prioritizes encampment removals since December, when the Safe Zones ordinance went into effect, according to Joanna Bloom, deputy director of policy and planning for Boulder’s utilities department.

Bloom said the increased priority scores for encampments near schools and walkways will probably mean the Safe and Managed Public Spaces, or SAMPS, team will simply visit those areas more frequently.

“Especially along the Boulder Creek corridor, when we start seeing more activity, the team will just be able to be there more often,” Bloom said. “These areas were already pretty prioritized prior to the passage (of Safe Zones), and so this just kind of enhances what we were doing and puts an extra focus on them.”

Bloom said camping activity along Boulder Creek has died down since the summer and that the team has recently been removing encampments in that area fairly quickly after they spring up. She added that there has been a sharp decline recently in the number of reports of encampments citywide.

“I don’t know that there’s a direct cause and effect, but we are seeing a drop in reports,” said Bloom.

So far this year, the city has removed 214 encampments, according to the city’s SAMPS data dashboard. And last month, there were 320 reports of encampments, down from 507 in November, although the dashboard notes that the number of reports does not necessarily equal the number of encampments because multiple people sometimes report the same encampment.

Daphna Rubin, a supporter of Safe Zones, wrote in a statement, “We appreciate the work of the SAMPS team to incorporate the passage of (Safe Zones) into its prioritization matrix. We’re glad to see safety around schools formally prioritized. Implementation takes time, and we appreciate that there’s work to be done to ensure clarity and consistency around enforcement and implementation.”

Because the Safe Zones ordinance only became law three months ago, and because of normal seasonal and other fluctuations in the behaviors of Boulder’s unhoused residents, it’s difficult to draw conclusions about how Safe Zones is impacting life in Boulder. Many of its effects may remain to be seen.

Katie Farnan of Solutions Not Safe Zones, a group that opposed the Safe Zones measure, said it’s too early to tell if the policy is working as its proponents intended. However, she continues to see the policy as problematic, and said the city’s changes place a higher priority on the location, rather than behavior, of unhoused people living in tents.

“You can’t criminalize someone for simply being unhoused near you. They need to be doing something that is in violation (of the law),” she said.

“This is the kind of nonsensical result of (Safe Zones) that we repeatedly warned about. And I will say, like many others before us have repeatedly said, that a general policy of widespread sweeps, when people don’t have other places to go, is cruel and inhumane.”

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