Home » Blog » Three Simple Steps to Compassionately Clean Up Boulder’s Encampments

Three Simple Steps to Compassionately Clean Up Boulder’s Encampments

If you walk around Boulder, you will see tents popping up all over. You might feel pangs of compassion for people too poor to afford a home. Or, you might feel annoyed that your favorite parks and creek trails have become overrun by tents, needles, propane tanks, and a smell of urine. Or, you might be terrified that another camper’s propane tank might explode and burn Boulder to the ground.

On any given night, between 100 and 150 people illegally camp in Boulder’s public spaces.

What are the most compassionate and effective ways to help these people and clean up the encampments in Boulder?

Before cleaning up the encampments it is essential to understand that encampments are not a housing problem. Instead, encampments are an incentive problem exacerbating a drug and mental illness problem.

This web page offers information about the encampments in Boulder. It delves into how many campers there are, where they come from, and what motivates them. It documents the $150 million dollars the City and County of Boulder spend on this problem. This page provides information and links to the many incentives that promote illegal camping.

Most importantly, this page offers successful solutions from other places, like Amsterdam and the Springs Rescue Mission in Colorado Springs that help those in need while costing far less money and making the city once again inviting to residents and visitors.


The citizens of the City of Boulder will spend $43 million in 2024 on housing and human services. This is nearly double the $22 million spent in 2022 for housing and human services. Much of this, as well as money for policing, hospital, judicial services, and fire department costs goes to providing housing, medical services, and help to people who camp illegally in Boulder parks. This is the equivalent of $422,535 spent on each of the 142 homeless people in Boulder, including the 70% who have not lived in Boulder for more than 2 years.

The County of Boulder, meanwhile, will spend $60 million to shelter and provide for the homeless. This amounts to $71,513 for each of the 839 homeless in Boulder County.

In Boulder, some of this money is used to place over 300 people each year into permanent homes. Both the City and the County aim to control 15% of all homes for low-cost housing.

This costs the average Boulder household over $1,000 in taxes each year. If this money helped people get back on their feet, it would be worth it. Instead, this money makes the situation worse for all concerned.

People euphemistically call them “homeless encampments.” Homeless is a word that tricks your brain into thinking it’s a housing problem when it’s really a problem of perverse government incentives exacerbating a drug and mental illness problem.

Despite what government leaders and the media say, the encampments in Boulder are not due to a housing affordability crisis. Instead, the problem is due to well-intentioned, but misguided people supporting a well-meaning but misguided Homeless Industrial Complex that uses mentally ill people and the good hearts of Boulder citizens to profit from a growing government bureaucracy that makes the problem worse. Members of the Homeless Industrial Complex use taxpayers’ money to create generous incentives that allure people from surrounding towns, cities, and states to camp in Boulder. More than 70% of the campers are not even from Boulder.

Take Action: The solution to helping people with addictions and mental illness is as successful as it is simple: 1) reverse the perverse incentives that cause the encampments in the first place; 2) comply with existing laws; and 3) help & shelter the people with addiction and mental illness. This approach works in Amsterdam, in Kentucky, and in cities across our country. These three steps have several bonuses: this method is far more compassionate, effective, and less expensive than what Boulder currently does.

Before taking the three steps to effectively and compassionately clean up Boulder’s encampments, it’s important to gain an overview of the problem. This means looking at the number of people camping in Boulder, the reasons behind their camping, and the cost to the residents of the City and County of Boulder to address the encampments and homelessness.

Numbers of People IN Encampments in Boulder

How many people camp illegally in Boulder?

According to former City Council member, Bob Yates, “Boulder’s city staff estimates that, on any given night, between 100 and 150 people illegally camp in Boulder’s public spaces. They calculate that, on average, four new unhoused people arrive in Boulder per day (with about four leaving each day), and that the average time these new arrivals spend in town is 1.3 months, or about six weeks. Indeed, websites for some nearby cities direct people to Boulder for homelessness services.”

Measuring the number of people living in tents in Boulder is challenging. The most commonly used measure is Point In Time estimates. Additional information comes from the number of people screened to receive services and citizen’s reports of encampments. What we know for sure is that the vast majority of people who camp illegally in Boulder are not from Boulder.

Point In Time Counts

“Point in Time” counts the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night, generally in January. The US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines homelessness as living in 1) a place not meant for human habitation, 2) an emergency shelter, or 3) some transitional housing programs.

Two different groups do Point in Time (PIT) counts in Boulder. The City of Boulder measures unsheltered homeless in the City. In January of 2023, the City of Boulder’s point in time count was 142 unsheltered people in the City. Of these, 70% were men.

The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative measures PIT for sheltered and unsheltered homeless in eight countries of the Denver Metro Area. According to this PIT, Boulder had a total of 839 people experiencing homelessness on Jan. 30, 2023. 596 of these were sheltered in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or safe haven programs. 243 were considered unsheltered because they slept on the streets or another place not meant for human habitation. “Another place not meant for human habitation” may mean a friend’s couch.

Homeless services

Another rough measure of the number of homeless people in Boulder is by screening for services. In 2023, officials with the City of Boulder screened 1220 people to receive services for homelessness, according to the Homeless Services Dashboard. According to their statistics, 70% of the homeless had not lived in Boulder for more than 2 years. The city does not track data going back further than this. Most years, 25% of the homeless in Boulder come from outside of Colorado.

Inquire Boulder Reporting

Another, less reliable source for counting homeless people is the Boulder Inquire Portal. In 2021, residents filed 335 reports of encampments in public spaces through the city’s Inquire Boulder portal. While these reports don’t accurately tell us the number of campers, since multiple people may file reports based on the same encampments, they do provide some information.

Boulder Shelter for the Homeless

The Boulder Shelter for the Homeless has about 30 unused beds on an average night. The Shelter is rarely full and, when it is—typically on very cold nights—arrangements are made for homeless people to sleep in hotels or the city’s recreation centers. In 2024, the shelter increased the number of beds from 160 to 180.

Not From Boulder

Almost 50% of the campers have lived in Boulder less than a month, according to former City Council member Bob Yates. Fewer than 27% have lived here more than 2 years. What if the data went back more than two years? Would we discover that over 90%, 95% or 99% of the campers were not from Boulder?

This data suggests that many illegal campers are NOT Boulder residents “down on their luck” but rather, out-of-town visitors who come for the lifestyle, the beautiful town, the freebies, and a place to do drugs without being hassled.


Although illegal camping may look like it’s not costing Boulder citizens much, the financial and social costs may astonish you.

According to Betsey Martens, the Executive Director of Boulder Housing Partners, the cost of caring for each homeless person is, on average nationally, about $43,000 dollars in 2014 . Homeless people are intensive system users who cycle between hospitals, courts, jail, and detox centers.

Financial Costs

In 2024, Boulder City will spend $43.5 million on housing and human services. In addition, some people estimate that dealing with illegal campers requires half of the city’s $43.68 million police budget, or roughly $20 million. If you don’t include fire fighting, clean up by parks, legal costs, etc., then the City pays up to $60 million per year to shelter homeless people.

With a flux of around 1300 homeless per year, that comes to over $46,000 per homeless visitor, according to Boulder City’s Homeless Services Dashboard.

In addition, Boulder County spends another $130,898 million of taxpayer’s money on housing and human services. While some of this goes for public health, some unknown fraction goes toward housing. For example, Boulder County contributes to the Boulder County Housing Authority (BCHA) which is developing 400 homes at Willoughby Corner in East Lafayette. These homes are for below-market rental and permanently affordable sale.

$1,128 per Household

Together, the City and County of Boulder spend over $130 million of taxpayer’s money to deal with encampments and homelessness each year. If you add in the cost of policing, which some experts estimate costs half of the City’s $45 million budget, the total is more like $150 million. According to the US Census, Boulder County has 133,390 households, which means each household pays $1,128 to deal with homelessness. If you are one of the 148,436 people employed in Boulder County, you are paying for encampments. Emergency services and firefighting costs are not included. If each baby, child, adult, student, and retiree of Boulder County were to pay (329,000 people in Boulder County), that would amount to $455 per person.

If we take the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative‘s PIT estimate of 839 homeless people in Boulder County, then residents of Boulder County are paying the equivalent of $178,000 per homeless person.

Other Government Expenses

In addition to the costs outlined above, there are many other costs including:

  • City Attourneys’ Fees
  • Hospital stays (in 2023, just 18 homeless people each had 16 vists to Boulder Community Hospital for average of 6.5 days. This is $2,620,800 for 18 people, or $145,600 for each.)
  • Judges
  • Urban Parks
  • Jail Costs
  • Detox Center Costs
  • Boulder Police
  • City Council time
  • ServPro – Clean Up

City Budget

The City of Boulder spends almost as much on homelessness as it does on police work. In the following chart, HHS stands for Housing and Human Services. Note that funding for Housing and Human Services nearly doubled from 2022 to 2023. The following amounts are in $1000s of dollars. Boulder’s total budget in 2024 was around $515 million dollars.


“Throughout the pandemic, HHS has deepened and expanded our services and investments to meet the unique needs of low-income community members and others who experience socio-economic and health disparities. Key activities include direct assistance and programming for older adults, youth and families; mental health co-responder services; rental assistance and eviction prevention; community mediation; support for sheltering and transition-to-housing programs for people experiencing homelessness; affordable housing and homeownership programs; and investments in a wide range of health equity, human services and substance use prevention programs.” ~ HHS Website

“HHS provides services and investments in community projects so everyone can experience Boulder as a just, inclusive, and equitable community.” ~ HHS

County Costs

In addition to costs paid by City taxpayers, Boulder County spends even more! In 2024, they budgeted $103.9 million of taxpayer’s money on housing and human services. While some of this goes for public health, some undisclosed fraction goes toward housing out-of-town people including those from encampments. Below are some of the housing projects mentioned in the Boulder County budget:

  • Boulder County contributes to the Boulder County Housing Authority (BCHA) which is developing 400 homes at Willoughby Corner in East Lafayette. These homes are for below-market rental and permanently affordable sale.
  • Boulder County will provide additional support in the amount of $8,996,419 to the Boulder Housing Authority related to operational support, capital improvements,
  • The budget was increased by $900,000 to provide additional financial support to the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, and $300,000 to the Homeless Outreach Providing Encouragement (HOPE).
  • Urban Redevelopment and Housing – $3,702,121
  • Includes all expenditures for the agencies whose purpose is to provide quality, affordable housing for income qualifying families, the elderly and disabled throughout Boulder County. Work also focuses on the development and acquisition of properties for future housing projects with the goal of finding resources from different sources to fund housing units that use renewable energy and create green jobs in our community. Services are provided by the departments of Housing and Human Services and Community Services.

Boulder County’s adopted 2024 expenditures are $653.1 million, an increase of $57.7 million or 10.6% over the 2023 budget. https://stories.opengov.com/bouldercountyco/published/jHh4dT_lw3N

Boulder County’s 2024 Budget
= $653.1 million

Human Costs

People not only have to pay huge taxes for the encampments, they also incur many personal costs, crime, environmental destruction, and fire risk.

Tragically, the worst cost of all is often paid by those with mental illness,

Mental Illness and Drug Overdoses

The worst cost of the encampments is imposed on those camping illegally, who experience an escalation of drug overdoses, mental illness, and loss of hope. By allowing them to camp illegally, they are not given treatment or help, but instead, sink into a cycle of despair.

Epidemic of Drug Overdoses

“We are in a epidemic of drug overdoses”. ~ Bouder Police Chief Maris Herold

Drug VIOLATIONS Increased 79% in 2023

According to Police Chief Maris Herold, drug violations were up 79% from the previous year (see video time stamp 1:26:18). Tragically, drug trafficking increasing. Fentanyl is involved in most fatal overdoses.

Due to mental health issues, the jail is overflowing with people who should be in mental health facilities. (time stamp 1:45.)

Boulder City Council Meeting.

Todd R, from NextDoor Boulder, documents 36 incidents of drug overdose in Boulder in just 2023. Several of these overdose events occurred at encampments as well as at “Housing First” homes.


Sadly, as encampments continue, crime escalates.

  • Stolen goods including stolen bikes, catalytic converters, cars, theft from stores
  • Increasing Violent Crimes
  • Safety – Assaults
  • Lost tourism revenue
Stolen Bikes

From 1/1/2024 to 5/6/2024, 157 bikes were reported stolen in the City of Boulder. The number of stolen bikes is probably much higher since many people do not report their stolen bikes. Many bikes end up in “chop shops” inside encampments. Thieves in these “chop shops” dismantle stolen bikes into individual parts, which are then sold separately or used to assemble new bikes, making it harder for authorities to trace and easier to profit from the stolen goods without raising suspicion.

Environmental Degradation

  • Trashed parks – Since October of 2021, Boulder has cleaned up 190 tons of debris from 983 illegal campsites for a cost of untold millions.
  • Blighted Nature
  • Needles littering public areas and Boulder Creek. One teen stabbed in foot.
  • Degraded quality of life
    • People no longer bike in certain parts of Boulder for fear of being hassled.
    • Women no longer walk in Boulder alone.
    • People no longer go downtown.
  • Fires and explosions from propane tanks

While many of the environmental problems are unsightly and unplessant, the risk of fire is not only ugly, it is potentially deadly.

352 propane tanks Confiscated

Many people in encampments use propane tanks for heating, cooking, and preparing meth. Between January 2022 and February 2023, the city confiscated 352 propane tanks from encampments.

Todd R. from NextDoor has been compiling a list of about 70 fires that Boulder Fire Department put out between December 31, 2021 and April 2024. Many of these fires were set by people living in encampments.

One of many examples is of a man who starts a fire in his camp. The Boulder Fire Department (BFD) put out the fire and booked the camper with a summons for lighting fires on public property, obstruction, resisting arrrest, and camping without consent. This man was immediately released.

Another fire incident occured on March 21, 2023 near Boulder High School at Broadway and Arapahoe. An exploding propane tank caused a fire that destroyed a tent. Thankfully, Boulder fire fighters put out the fire before it got out of control.

What if it had gotten out of control?

The Marshall fire cost the lives of two people and an estimated 1000 pets. More than 1,000 homes and businesses were destroyed in Louisville, Superior and unincorporated Boulder County. Financial losses were around $2 billion.

What if one of the many fires started by illegal campers led to a disaster like that of the Marshal Fire?

Why do Boulder authorities allow this to happen?

Why the encampments?

More and more Boulderites are asking: Why are there so many unsanctioned encampments in Boulder, especially when the risk is so high, both to the campers and the citizens who pay for them?

According to Boulder City Council, the reason for the encampments is growing homelessness across the country. “There is a national increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, and Boulder is an attractive location; housed and unhoused alike come to Boulder in search of opportunities. Many people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Boulder were experiencing unsheltered homelessness in other places before coming to Boulder.”

However, despite what City officials say, encampments are NOT a housing problem.

Many people conflate the camping problem with the homeless problem. To do so exacerbates homelessness, mental illness, drug addiction, crime, including illegal camping, and fire risk.

Understand the Problem

One way to understand the reasons why people camp illegally is to ask the campers.

According to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, the self-reported reasons people give for being homeless include the following: 12% report any disabling condition; 9% report developmental condition; 23% report physical disabling condition; 32% report a mental health concern; 20% report chronic health condition; 9% report traumatic brain injury; 22% report substance use; and 16% report domestic abuse. According to these self reports, the problems is not economic, but other problems, like mental health issues, disability, domestic violence, and substance abuse.

What the report fails to mention is that there is another motivation: Some people camp, not because they have an underlying problem, but because they want to.

Camping By Choice

What’s missing from the official questionnaire is whether people camp because they want to. In some cases, people camp in Boulder because they can.

Over the years, I have talked to various people living in tents in Boulder. Admittedly, my encounters were biased. I avoid talking to those people in camps with stolen bike parts, or to those who are yelling. Those I have talked to said they had other options, but chose to camp in Boulder because it was the best of many options. Following are their stories:


In March of 2023, I met Dave who was sitting on a rock just outside of his tent nestled along Boulder Creek by the Public Library near three other tents. He seemed friendly, so I said “Nice day!” He agreed. I asked, “Have you lived long in Boulder?” He said “I’m from Kansas. I’ve been coming to Boulder every summer for the past 10 years or so.” I asked, “Do the police hassle you much?” He said, “No. I know all the tricks.”

Mayor of Occupy Boulder

Another camper I met called himself the Mayor of Occupy Boulder. I met him in front of his tent pitched with about seven others tents outside the Municipal Building on Broadway. The Mayor told me he worked repairing computers. Although he could afford a house, he chose to camp in Boulder because it made more financial sense. He said the city should put in a more convenient bathroom facility. I asked him, “Do you think it’s fair to Boulder residents that you are not paying taxes?” He said “I do pay taxes. I buy lots of soda.”

Student Adventurers

A few years back, I met a group of college-age campers from Portland who were hanging out by Boulder Creek. They said Boulder was a friendly and beautiful destination, so they were happy to camp here. (They reminded me of the time my boyfriend and I were students in Boston. One night we decided it would be fun to camp in a park. We had no idea it was illegal to do so. Within an hour of falling asleep, police shone a light on us, informed us that camping in public parks was illegal, and asked us to move along, which we did.)

If you watch the news or social media, you see cities overrun with zombie-like people in filthy encampments and hear news anchors talking about the growing epidemic of homelessness in the US. If you are especially concerned about the homeless, you might be reading bestselling books like Evicted or Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond that explain the growing problem of encampments is due to increasing homelessness.

More Beds than Homeless

Yet if you looked more closely, you might be surprised to discover that the encampments are not due to a housing problem. You might be even more surprized to learn that, according to the 2023 HUD report, there are more beds for the homeless ( 1,112,545 year-round beds) than homeless people (653,000). In communities across the nation these 1,112,545 year-round beds are dedicated to serving people who are currently experiencing homelessness or transitioning out of homelessness.

Furthermore, many people are astonished to learn that homelessness is actually decreasing over the long term. While there was an uptick in homelessness due to governments’ overreaction to COVID which put people out of work, homelessness nationwide is still down from where it was even 10 years ago.

Homelessness Down From 6% to 0.17%

In the early 20th century, the number of homeless people was around 5 million out of a total population of 76 million (around 6 percent) of the US population. According to US Housing and Urban Development, the population of homeless people is in 2022 was 582,000, which is 0.1752% of our current population of 331 million people.

“Adjusted for population, any of those estimates would dwarf
the current count of around 580,000.”
~ Stephen Eide Homelessness in America:
The History and Tragedy of an Intractable Social Problem,

Uptick in 2023

According to HUD’s 2023 report, the number of homeless people increased a whopping 12.5% from 2022 to 2023. Government officials and their press releases use this statistic to warn of an “Affordability Crisis” that the government must fix. While it’s true that home prices are increasing in the US, this 12.5% increase has other causes.

What’s Going On?

The press and government officials neglect to report two issues that explain this 12.5% increase. One issue is the dramatically different way that the homeless are counted. The other issue is the huge influx of immigrants.

New Counts

One reason for the huge increase in counts of homelesss is that the counting methodology changed dramatically. Had the same methodology been used in previous years, more people would have been counted in those years as well.

From 1 to 10 days of PIT Counts

Up until 2023, point-in-time (PIT) counts occured annually during a single day in January. In 2023, the PIT counts occurred during the last 10 days of January.

More People Counting

“Between 2022 and 2023, Colorado had a 39 percent increase in total homelessness. CoCs attributed this increase to changes in shelter capacity, an improved PIT count methodology which included training for street outreach volunteers and recruiting volunteers with lived experience, and an increase in the number of PIT count volunteers. ” ~ HUD’s 2023 report

More Expert Counters

In addition to hiring more people to count, people were hired who were more capable of finding homeless people that might have previously been overlooked. Government officials added “training for street outreach volunteers and recruiting volunteers with lived experience” to help in their counting.

In Colorado and California, “Improved unsheltered count methodologies were said to have increased the number of people counted in encampments.”

Better data is a good thing. But, changing the way data is gathered from one year to the next alters the overall picture because it introduces inconsistencies which minimizes comparability and the accuracy of trend analysis.

Different counts yeild different numbers. But there is another reason explaining the increase that didn’t make the headlines.

Migrant Influx

“Increasing migrant populations now exceed those born in US.”

“People who identify as Hispanic or Latin(a)(o) (x) made up 55 percent of the total increase in people experiencing homelessness between 2023 and 2023. Most of this increase (33,772 people) was for people experiencing sheltered homelessness.”

36.8% of homeless were Hispanic, who represent 18.9% of Population, according to 2020 Census data, (62.1 million). ~ HUD, 2023

In Colorado “One CoC also noted that it had an infux of more than 1,500 migrants shortly before the PIT count. Those people were housed in temporary shelters and included in the sheltered number on the night of the PIT count.”

“Miami, the largest city in southeast Florida, reported that the arrival of over 200,000 people from other countries in the last year contributed to the rise there.”

Hispanic Homeless Increase 44%

“Between 2022 and 2023, the number of people in families experiencing sheltered homelessness who identifed as Hispanic or Latin(a)(o)(x) increased by 44 percent (20,911 more people) and by four percent among Non-Hispanic or Non-Latin(a)(o)(x) people (4,103 more people).” ~ HUD, 2023

“Homelessness among persons in families with children experiencing homelessness rose by 16 percent.” Most of these families are Hispanic.

The vast majority of this is due to the influx of millions of people since 2021. According to the Washington Post,  “Illegal border crossings have averaged 2 million per year since 2021, the highest level ever.”

Many of these undocuments migrants are bussed or flown into Colorado. On Feb 15, 2024, the New York Times reported that as of January, 2024, “Denver, a city of 750,000, had received nearly 40,000 migrants, the most per capita of any city in the nation.”  An estimated 6,000 new migrant students have enrolled in Colorado schools since the summer of 2023, according to Colorado Public Radio. 30,000 migrants are from Venezuela.

How many of these undocumented migrants are now in Boulder?

Homelessness Down in Colorado

Until the recent surge in migrants, the number of homeless people had been decreasing in Colorado. Since 2007, when HUD began tracking homeless in Colorado, the percentage of homeless people had been decreasing. (See graph below.) After the COVID crisis, when government policies forced millions of people out of work and small businesses to close, there was a tiny uptick in the percent of homeless people, but overall, the trend is down. In 2007, there were nearly 300 homeless people for every 100,000 Coloradans. Today, that number is around 170.

The Colorado trend in decreasing homelessness can also be seen nationwide. According to statistics from US Housing and Urban Development, homelessness has been decreasing steadily. With a slight bump up with COVID, homelessness is going down in the US.

Another way to look at homelessness is to separate sheltered from unsheltered homeless. While the number of sheltereed homeless has been decreaing. the numbers of unshelteded homeless has remained the same over the past few years.


The good news is that more and more people are finding homes and shelter. In contrast, the numbers of unsheltered homeless has leveled out nationally, and seems to be increasing in some cities.

“People want to blame high housing costs for homelessness. They feel that, if you say drugs are the reason for homelessness, then that stigmatizes people who are homeless. I’m not sure I buy that at all. But I found the increases in homelessness happening in areas where housing costs are very high, like Los Angeles, but also in areas where there are no rising costs and where they’ve never had any homelessness, like, for example, the town of Clarksburg, West Virginia”.
~ Sam Quinones for the Guardian

The bigger the state, the bigger the homeless problem.

Homeless By State

Data from US Housing and Urban Development, (HUD).


https://www.huduser.gov/portal/sites/default/files/pdf/2020-AHAR-Part-1.pdf. Note: If HUD was putting their data into context, they would show homeless people as a percent of the entire population. If they did this, the positive trend in ending homelessness would be even more apparent.

Not a Housing Affordability Crisis

Many claim that Boulder’s number one problem is a housing affordability crisis. While homes are expensive in Boulder County, this crisis is not driving the encampments.

The following graph illustrates that there is no long term crisis in home ownership. In contrast, the long term trend in the US is toward greater homeownership.


Boulder’s encampments are NOT the product of increasing homelessness, as government officials and the news reports.

So if encampments are not due to homelessness, what is the cause? Let’s look at some of the real problems, including incentives, mental illness/drug addiction, and poor leadership.

In Boulder, the biggest cause of encampments is incentives that invite out of town people to camp in Boulder.

Many healthy, able-bodied people come to Boulder to camp in the most desirable public spaces, like near the Library, along Boulder Creek, in City Park, and near the Bandshell. Campers like the freedom from responsibility and the nice perks that Boulder has to offer.

Generous incentives from governments and non-profits entice people to come camp in Boulder.

Government Incentives

Boulder government officials offer many incentives for campers, including the following:

Free Housing Incentive

The biggest freebie to campers is entry into a lottery to win free housing in Boulder. Every year, the city gives about 100 people a permanent home. The county gives away another couple hundred free homes. Whereas your family may work several jobs to pay for your mortgage, out-of-towners who break the law are entered in a lottery with a greater than 1 in 3 chance of winning free housing.

In 2023, 333 people were placed into homes in Boulder County.

Remember, in 2023, PIT estimates indicated that Boulder County had 839 homeless. Nearly 40% of these are placed in homes.

In 2023, 771 people in the City of Boulder registered for coordinated entry to receive benefits, according to a county official. Of these, between 85 and 286 people were placed into a home in the city (sources vary). Others were reunited with family and friends outside of Boulder.

Boulder Housing Partners Lottery

Every year, the city’s housing authority, Boulder Housing Partners, runs a lottery for free housing based on income qualifications. In 2023, 2,210 people applied and 333 people were selected. Everyone who applies for that has a 15% chance of winning free housing.

Homeless Solutions for Boulder County

The City of Boulder’s Homelessness Strategy was developed as part of a larger countywide partnership involving Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (HSBC), a collaboration between the City of Boulder, City of Longmont, and Boulder County. The collaborative takes an approach from Housing First. Although many government officials say Housing First helps, it’s been shown to be a disaster in places like San Francisco.

Permanent affordable Homes = 3947 in 2023

The City of Boulder’s goal is 15% permanently affordable homes by 2030.

As of 2014, Boulder County owned 611 housing units. Their new goal is to own 1800 units, according to the Boulder County Regional Housing Partnership Summit Jan 2024.

Non-Profit Incentives

In addition to government incentives, many non-profits also offer many incentives for people to come camp in Boulder:

  • Free tents
  • Free sleeping bags
  • Free food
  • Free hair cuts

“Like many of the social problems plaguing urban areas,
homelessness has suffered from advocates who put ideology
over practical solutions. Demands for more money and
more sensitivity to lived experience have not actually done
much to help those who are most vulnerable.”
~ Naomi Schaefer Riley, It’s Not a Housing Problem


The charity Sleeptight, donates free sleeping bags to campers. Sleep Tight Colorado (STC) believes that everyone deserves a warm night’s sleep. Sleep Tight Colorado’s mission is to provide sleeping bags to the homeless of Colorado. STC is based in Denver, with representatives in Boulder, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Longmont. As of 5/20/2023, they had donated 5,560 sleeping bags to Colorado Campers. Meredith Gershberg is the president and founder of Sleep Tight Colorado.


FeetForward gives free hot meals, free electricity to charge devices, and free haircuts. “We collaborate with local service providers through the coordination of Boulder County Homeless Solutions (BCHS) and our Continuum of Care, Metro Denver Homeless Initiative (MDHI). We have a partnership agreement with the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) and proactively engage individuals experiencing homelessness into the Coordinated Entry system and active housing plans through the appropriate SPDAT housing assessment.”

Every Tuesday, you can find them at Boulder’s Central Park directly at the Bandshell from 2:30 to 4:00 pm.

Streetscape Boulder

They offer hot food and drinks, basic winter needs, hygiene and first-aid, harm reduction, and a pet pantry. They also distributing brand new outerwear—jackets, snowpants, and boots.

Every Second Friday
2:30 – 3:30pm
Central Park/Muni Building/Library

Every Last Friday
2:30 – 3:30pm
St. Andrew Church (3700 Baseline Road)

TGTHR website

TGTHR provides safe housing, food, clothing, counseling, employment help, health care, transportation assistance and other support services to individuals ages 12 to 24.

ACLU Incentivizes Drug addiction, Dependence, and Spiral of Shame

ACLU fights linking benefits to sobriety
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a federal class-action lawsuit to halt the nation’s first statewide drug testing requirement for welfare recipients. Prohibiting drug testing for welfare recipients is harmful and uncompassionate because it enables addiction by failing to address underlying substance abuse issues, perpetuating cycles of dependency, and hindering access to necessary treatment and support services.

Prohibiting drug testing for welfare recipients can incentivize continued drug addiction and perpetuate cycles of dependence in several ways:

  1. Lack of Accountability: Without drug testing requirements, there’s less accountability for welfare recipients to address their substance abuse issues. This lack of accountability can lead to individuals continuing their drug use without consequences, further deepening their addiction.
  2. Financial Support without Conditions: Welfare benefits provide financial support without requiring recipients to address underlying issues such as drug addiction. As a result, individuals may become complacent and reliant on welfare assistance without taking steps towards recovery or seeking help for their addiction.
  3. Stagnation of Personal Growth: The absence of drug testing requirements can contribute to a stagnant cycle of dependence, where individuals remain trapped in their addiction without the impetus or support to break free. This can hinder personal growth, development, and the pursuit of long-term stability and independence.
  4. Psychological Harm: Continuously receiving welfare benefits without addressing addiction can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem. Individuals may internalize negative beliefs about themselves and their abilities, further exacerbating their substance abuse and mental health issues.
  5. Missed Opportunities for Intervention: Drug testing can serve as a screening tool to identify individuals in need of assistance and connect them with appropriate resources and support services. Without this intervention, individuals may miss out on opportunities for early detection and intervention, allowing their addiction to escalate unchecked.
  6. Perpetuation of Poverty: Continued drug addiction can contribute to ongoing financial instability and poverty, as individuals prioritize drug use over meeting their basic needs or pursuing opportunities for education, employment, and self-improvement.

Prohibiting drug testing for welfare recipients reinforces harmful cycles of addiction, dependence, and poverty by neglecting to address underlying substance abuse issues and failing to provide the necessary support for recovery and rehabilitation.

ACLU’s Lawsuit Against Boulder

The ACLU sued Boulder, seeking to invalidate Boulder’s ban on camping in public spaces. While part of that lawsuit was thrown out by a judge last year, the rest is slated to go to trial at some point in the future. What is the cost to defend Boulder from this lawsuit?

“Many euphemistically call them “homeless encampments.”
Encampments is a word that tricks your brain into thinking it’s a housing problem,
when it’s really a drug and mental illness problem.”
~ Michael Shellenberger

While it’s true that the US has a shortage of affordable housing, this is NOT the reason people live in encampments. These are open drug scenes or open drug markets where late-stage addicts live. Sadly, they live in open drug scenes because they have either been kicked out of homes of friends and family, they have stopped working, and/or they want to be close to the dealers.

Call them “Open Drug Scenes”

Experiment that Failed

Amsterdam used to have open drug scenes. Thinking it was the compassionate way to help addicts, Amsterdam allowed people to camp and do drugs in open drug scenes. As of 2019, these are gone. As one Amsterdam official said to journalist Michael Shellenbererger: “We had open drug scenes but we shut them down.” Why? Because they didn’t help. Instead, Amsterdam now shelters their mentally ill people and gives them help. They learned from their experiment. Boulder needs to do the same.

The ONLY reason cities like Boulder, San Francisco, and LA have open drug scenes is because citizens allow them. Places like Amsterdam and Boston have shut it down.

New York shelters 95% of its mentally ill people. In contrast, California shelters only a third of its mentally ill.

The results of these two experiments in New York and LA are in: 3 times more homeless people are killed in LA than in New York. 100% of women in encampments have been sexually assaulted, some multiple times.

Drug Use

As encampments have grown, drug use has exploded. Encampments serve both as markets and saanctioned places to do drugs.

In the United States, a record 112,000 people died from drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending in September 2023. Fentanyl caused 75,000 of these deaths. To put that number in perspective, fewer than 20,000 Americans total died from drug overdoses in the year 2000. ~ Public Substack

Boulder Citizens voted to end camping in public spaces.

Unfortunately, unelected bureaucrats are going against the will of the people, and against common sense.

Some of these unelected “leaders” include:

1.) The unelected city manager has chosen to go around this law banning campers, effectively bypassing the will of the people.

2). The ACLU filed a lawsuit attempting to thwart the will of the Boulderites who do not want people to camp on public spaces.

3.) Colorado State officials may soon override the will of Boulder residents who do not want camping in public places.

Some of these unelected leaders who decide how to handle encampments make poor choices. One such problem is elevating “lived experience” as a means for deciding how to help the homeless.

If a person with mental illness says that they
enjoy using opioids, does that mean
that we have to let them?
~ Naomi Schaefer Riley in It’s Not a Housing Problem.

Often, family members who care for a mentally ill loved one, know that camping is NOT a compassionate option.

Stephen Eide wisely recommends consulting the families who care for addicts.

“Families could explain to homeless policymakers what programs and reforms could have helped them better manage their homeless relative, and, thus, may have prevented their descent into the streets.” ~ Stephen Eide Homelessness in America.

Sadly, unelected bureaucrats have convinced elected leaders and some voters of programs that don’t work. One of these programs is Housing First.

“The policy that has unfortunately taken hold of the entire sector for the past few decades has been “Housing First,” the idea that if we can just provide the homeless with some form of permanent shelter, then all the other problems will either be diminished or disappear entirely. If you just give people housing, then they will have an address to give an employer and they can get a job. If you give people housing then their health will improve and they won’t be as likely to engage in alcohol or drug abuse.” ~ Naomi Schaefer Riley, in It’s Not a Housing Problem

Housing First Removes Incentives for Healing

Housing First, while well-intentioned, does not help the people it is intended to help. Offering housing with no strings attached merely serves to remove any incentive that the homeless might have to get their lives back on track. In contrast, supportive housing, requires residents to attend sobriety programs or engage in some kind of work. Supportive housing is less popular but seems to produce better results. “To improve lives,” Eide writes, “government should sometimes structure people’s choices using material inducements.”

Housing First is NOT compassionate.

Housing First Fails.

Housing mentally ill individuals without providing appropriate support or treatment can be inadequate in addressing their needs and may even exacerbate their condition. Simply providing homes without accompanying services and support may not effectively address the complex needs of individuals struggling with mental illness. Here’s why:

  1. Lack of Treatment: Housing First does not address the underlying mental health issues that individuals may be experiencing. Mental health conditions often require specialized treatment, such as therapy, medication, or other interventions. Without access to these services, individuals may continue to struggle with their mental health, which can negatively impact their overall well-being and ability to maintain stable housing.
  2. Social Isolation: Without adequate support networks or access to mental health services, individuals may become socially isolated, which can further exacerbate their mental health challenges. Social support and community engagement are essential components of recovery for many individuals with mental illness.
  3. Risk of Homelessness Recurrence: Providing housing without addressing the root causes of homelessness, such as mental illness, substance abuse, or poverty, may result in individuals cycling in and out of homelessness. Without appropriate support and treatment, individuals may struggle to maintain stable housing, leading to repeated episodes of homelessness.
  4. Increased Vulnerability: Individuals with untreated mental illness are more vulnerable to various risks, including substance abuse, exploitation, victimization, and involvement with the criminal justice system. Without access to mental health services and support, they may be unable to effectively navigate these challenges and may experience further harm.

It’s a Zoning Problem

Another reason for encampments is the lack of inexpensive single-room occupancy housing. This is due to well-intentioned zoning laws that limit the stock of inexpensive housing.

“While these kind of residences that were once found on Skid Row or in the Tenderloin District were hardly great places to live, they did provide a way for people who engaged in only casual labor or on subsistence level wages to find shelter. They may not have had a permanent place to stay but they were also not sleeping in a public park. Zoning laws have largely eliminated such housing. But in an effort to improve housing for the poor it is possible that we have effectively pushed some to choose between shelters and the street.” ~ Naomi Schaefer Riley in It’s Not a Housing Problem.

The right amount of food will make you healthy, while too much will make you sick. The same is true with helping mentally ill homeless. An appropriate amount of money will fix the problem whereas too much makes it worse (see drug overdose deaths, above).

This is without any doubt the case in Boulder. Boulder taxpayers spend well over $60 million dollars (around $1200 per household) each year on helping the homeless and the problem just gets worse.

UnEnforcement Problem

Camping is not allowed on public property in Boulder.

Laws against Camping

Like 72 percent of cities across the country (surveyed by the National Law Center,) Boulder has a law that bans camping in public spaces, including in parks, creek ways, open space, bike paths, and sidewalks. Boulder’s law against camping in public spaces has been in place since 1980. This law was re-affirmed by City Council members in 2016. Illegally camping on public space is a misdemeanor violation. In 2021, the City Council expanded the no-camping ban by prohibiting tents and propane tanks in parks. These bans carry possible fines of up to $2,650 and up to 90 days in jail

Rare Enforcement of Camping Ban

  1. Although it is illegal to camp on public land, this law is rarely enforced unless other, more serious crimes are suspected.
  2. Even if someone was arrested for illegally camping, they likely would be immediately released on a personal recognizance bond, pursuant to a Colorado state law change enacted a few years ago.
  3. Even though propane tanks are prohibited, city officials rarely fine or jail violators who live in unsanctioned encampments or use propane tanks.
  4. Removal of an unsanctioned camp is done as a last resort when the occupants choose to not engage with offered sheltering or services and refuse to vacate.

In 2021, a federal judge issued a ruling requiring Denver city officials to give seven days notice before clearing most homeless encampments, or two days notice if the area is deemed dangerous to public health and safety.

Camping Ban Tickets

Boulder issues more tickets for illegal camping than all other cities in Colorado combined, according to a University of Denver study. Even though pollice issue tickets, campers often just rip them up.

In 2022, the Boulder Municipal Court received 304 case filings for alleged violations of the city’s ordinance prohibiting camping without a permit. That’s below the annual average for the last decade.

Altruism is a beautiful human trait. It’s natural for caring individuals to want to assist those facing homelessness, poverty, or mental illness. An abundance of caring for others makes Boulder one of the most wonderful places in the world.

However, what may appear as generosity can sometimes conceal toxicity, which manifests as a subtle power dynamic or narcissism or lack of concern for the emotional well-being of the other.

This harmful tendency is known as Toxic Altruism. Though it masquerades as charity and generosity, Toxic Altruism is misguided and detrimental, particularly to those experiencing poverty, homelessness, or mental illness. Toxic Altruism stems from unexamined feelings of insecurity and emptiness. It is unrelated to genuine altruism. Instead, Toxic Altruism satisfies subconscious desires for self-validation, driven by feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, or guilt.

In their pursuit of relieving subconscious guilt, some people fail to truly empathize with those they intend to help. Instead, they fulfill their own emotional needs by offering superficial aid, such as giving a dollar to someone in need.

Driven by a need to alleviate their guilt, some people may offer a small sum to a homeless person. While this gesture may provide temporary satisfaction to the giver, it often neglects the genuine needs of the recipient. It can inadvertently communicate a message that the recipient is “less than”, or reinforce a power imbalance. Often, such gestures serve as a means of buying relief from guilt rather than addressing the root cause of the person’s homelessness, which so often stems from lack of self-worth.

Sanctioned Campgrounds Don’t Work

Just as illegal camping does not help, sanctioned campgrounds also don’t work. One of the reasons sanctioned campgrounds don’t work is because campers want to be in the heart of the city where drug deals can be made. See Bob Yates review for more reasons why Sanctioned Campgrounds Don’t Work.


Once people understand that the encampments are not a homeless problem, but rather a set of problems due to bad incentives and mental health/adicttion issues, the actions needed to correct this situation become clear.

The solution to this problem is as successful as it is simple: The main goal is to help the mentally ill with shelter and effective treatment. The steps are to 1) Create better incentives; and 2) Enforce existing laws; and 3) Shelter and Help. This approach works in Amsterdam and in cities across our country. The bonus is, this method is far more compassionate, more effective, and less expensive than what Boulder is currently doing.

Create Better Incentives

Perhaps the most important step to ending encampments is to create better incentives. This begins by ending incentives to camp illegally.

Ending incentives such as free camping in beautiful areas, free internet use in libraries, free access to recreation centers, free phones and minutes, free drug supplies, free condoms, free counseling, and lottery entries for permanent housing will deter people from camping illegally. Here are reasons why:

  1. Removal of Attractive Benefits: Incentives make illegal camping more appealing than it would otherwise be. By removing these benefits, the allure of illegal camping diminishes, making it less attractive.
  2. Reduced Comfort: Free access to RecCenters , internet, and other amenities makes camping more comfortable and sustainable for individuals. Removing these incentives would make illegal camping less convenient, discouraging people from engaging in it.
  3. Financial Incentives: Free access to facilities and services represents a financial burden on taxpayers. By eliminating these incentives, governments can save money that would otherwise be spent on providing these services.
  4. Disincentivizing Illegal Behavior: Providing free services to illegal campers encourages illegal behavior. Removing these incentives sends a clear message that illegal camping is not tolerated.
  5. Promoting Legal Channels: By removing incentives for illegal camping, authorities can encourage people to seek legal alternatives for housing and support, such as shelters, affordable housing programs, and social services. This can lead to more effective and sustainable solutions for individuals experiencing homelessness.

Ending incentives for illegal camping will discourage this illegal camping, will reduce taxpayer costs, and promote legal channels for accessing housing and support services.

Enforcing laws that ban illegal camping is compassionate for the mentally ill, for drug addicts, and for and law-abiding citizens for several reasons:

  1. Safety and Protection: Illegal camping often exposes individuals, including drug addicts and law-abiding citizens, to various dangers such as violence, crime, and environmental hazards like fire. Enforcing camping laws helps protect vulnerable populations, including those struggling with addiction and mental illness, from harm and victimization.
  2. Access to Support Services: By enforcing camping laws, authorities can intervene and connect individuals experiencing addiction or mental illness with support services such as shelters, healthcare, counseling, and rehabilitation programs. This intervention can potentially save lives and provide individuals with the assistance they need to address their challenges.
  3. Preventing Further Harm: Allowing illegal camping to persist without enforcement can perpetuate cycles of addiction, mental illness, and victimization. By enforcing laws against illegal camping, authorities can disrupt these cycles and prevent individuals from sinking deeper into despair and suffering further harm.
  4. Promoting Accountability: Enforcing camping laws sends a message that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, is accountable for their actions. This can empower individuals to seek help and take steps towards recovery and rehabilitation, rather than remaining trapped in destructive behaviors.
  5. Preserving Public Spaces: Illegal camping can have negative impacts on public spaces, including environmental degradation, sanitation issues, and disruption to communities. Enforcing camping laws helps preserve these spaces for the enjoyment and use of all citizens, promoting a safer and more welcoming environment for everyone.
  6. Encouraging Compliance with the Law: Enforcing camping laws reinforces the importance of respecting and obeying societal norms and regulations. This fosters a sense of order and cohesion within communities, benefiting both law-abiding citizens and those struggling with addiction or mental illness.

Enforcing laws that ban illegal camping is not about being mean-spirited; rather, it is about promoting safety, providing access to support services, preventing further harm, promoting accountability, preserving public spaces, and encouraging compliance with the law. These efforts ultimately serve the well-being of people with drug addictions or mental illnesss and law-abiding citizens by addressing the root causes of homelessness, addiction, and mental illness, and promoting a more compassionate and just society.

Supportive Housing Works

Supportive housing, though, that requires residents to attend sobriety programs
or engage in some kind of work, is less popular but seems to produce better results.
~ Naomi Schaefer Riley, in It’s Not a Housing Problem

“To improve lives,
government should sometimes structure
people’s choices using material inducements.”
~ Stephen Eide Homelessness in America:
The History and Tragedy of an Intractable Social Problem,

Shelter & Help means to provide shelter and help for those who are experiencing drug addiction or mental health issues.

Although Shelter & Help may sound like Housing First, it is radically different. The goal of Shelter & Help is to provide people with help they need to heal themselves in the place where they are being sheltered. This is in contrast with Housing First which does not offer medical, psychiatric, or occupational help.

Shelter & Help is Compassionate

Shelter and help represent a compassionate and effective strategy for assisting people with addiction problems or mental illness for several reasons:

  1. Stability: Providing shelter ensures that individuals have a safe and stable living environment, which is crucial for recovery from addiction or managing mental illness. Stability enables individuals to focus on their recovery without the stress and uncertainty of homelessness.
  2. Access to Support Services: Shelter programs with support services address the root causes of addiction and mental illness and help individuals develop the skills and resources needed for long-term recovery. Support may include mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, medical care, vocational training, and assistance with obtaining benefits or employment.
  3. Holistic Approach: Shelter programs typically take a holistic approach to addressing addiction and mental illness by integrating physical, emotional, and social factors that contribute to more comprehensive and effective care.
  4. Community and Peer Support: Shelter programs foster community and peer support, which provide encouragement, empathy, and accountability to promoting recovery and resilience..
  5. Prevention of Homelessness: For individuals at risk of homelessness due to addiction or mental illness, providing shelter and support services can prevent them from falling into the cycle of chronic homelessness. By intervening early and providing the necessary resources and assistance, shelter programs can help individuals stabilize their lives and avoid the detrimental effects of prolonged homelessness.
  6. Dignity and Respect: Offering shelter and support services to individuals struggling with addiction or mental illness communicates a message of dignity and respect. It acknowledges their inherent worth as human beings and provides them with the opportunity to rebuild their lives with dignity and autonomy.
  7. Work Traainig: Ideally, the Shelter and Help model teaches job skills so that people in recovery gain dignity and self worth.

Shelter and Help represent a compassionate and effective strategy for assisting individuals with addiction problems or mental illness by providing stability, access to support services, a holistic approach to care, community and peer support, job training, prevention of homelessness, and affirmation of dignity and respect. By addressing the underlying causes of addiction and mental illness and supporting individuals in their recovery journey, these programs can make a significant difference in improving the lives of those in need.

Shelter and Help sounds like a great way to help people with addiction and mental health problems. Yet how are we to pay for sheltering and treating people? One idea is to use the money from failed programs like Housing First to instead reconfigure jails.

Kenton County Detention Center in northern Kentucky, offers inspiration. This unit is part of a new approach to jail made necessary by our nationwide epidemic of opiate addiction. You can read more about this in Sam Quinones 2017 NY Times article: Addicts Need Help. Jails Could Have the Answer.

“Jail can be a necessary, maybe the only, lever with which to encourage or force an addict who has been locked up to seek treatment before it’s too late. “People don’t go to treatment because they see the light,” said Kevin Pangburn, director of Substance Abuse Services for the Kentucky Department of Corrections. “They go to treatment because they feel the heat.”” ~ Sam Quinones, Addicts Need Help. Jails Could Have the Answer. New York Times 2017

Transforming jails into recovery centers can be a compassionate, productive, and cost-effective approach to helping people with addictions recover. Here’s how:

  1. Access to Treatment: Jails provide a controlled environment where individuals with addictions can be safely detoxified and provided with access to evidence-based treatment programs. By integrating substance abuse treatment into the jail system, individuals have immediate access to the help they need, which may not be readily available in the community due to limited treatment resources.
  2. Forced Intervention: For many individuals struggling with addiction, incarceration may serve as a necessary intervention to break the cycle of substance abuse. Being in jail can provide the incentive or pressure for individuals to seek treatment and address their addiction before it spirals further out of control, possibly into death.
  3. Continuity of Care: Jails that offer comprehensive addiction treatment programs can provide continuity of care by transitioning individuals seamlessly from incarceration to community-based treatment upon release. This continuity helps prevent relapse and supports long-term recovery efforts.
  4. Addressing Co-occurring Issues: Individuals with addiction often have underlying mental health issues or trauma that contribute to their substance abuse. Jails with integrated recovery centers can offer mental health services alongside addiction treatment, addressing the root causes of addiction and promoting holistic recovery.
  5. Reduced Recidivism: By addressing the root causes of criminal behavior, such as addiction, jails that focus on rehabilitation can help reduce recidivism rates. When individuals receive effective treatment for their addiction while incarcerated, they are less likely to return to criminal behavior upon release, ultimately saving taxpayer money by reducing the burden on the criminal justice system.
  6. Cost Savings: Converting jails into recovery centers can be cost-effective compared to building new treatment facilities from scratch. Many jails already have existing infrastructure and resources that can be repurposed for addiction treatment programs, making it a more efficient use of resources.
  7. Community Safety: Effective addiction treatment in jails can contribute to overall community safety by reducing drug-related crimes and the negative impacts of addiction on families and neighborhoods.

Funding for sheltering and treating people in recovery centers within jails can come from reallocating resources currently used for Housing First, incarceration, leveraging partnerships with public and private organizations, and exploring innovative financing mechanisms such as grants, donations, and public-private partnerships. Additionally, investing in addiction treatment as a means of crime prevention and public health promotion can yield long-term cost savings by reducing the societal costs associated with addiction and criminal behavior.

“The opiate epidemic has swamped our treatment-center infrastructure. Only one in 10 addicts get the treatment they need, according to a 2016 surgeon general’s report. New centers are costly to build, politically difficult to find real estate for and beyond the means of most uninsured street addicts, anyway. So where can we quickly find cheap new capacity for drug treatment accessible to the street addict? Jail is one place few have thought to look.” ~ Sam Quinones, Addicts Need Help. Jails Could Have the Answer. New York Times 2017

In contrast to the “Housing First” approach used by Boulder, the “Housing Earned” model provides far more benefits to those people experiencing mental illness and drug addiction.

Earning money to pay for housing offers many benefits to individuals struggling with drug addiction and mental illness:

  1. Mental Benefits:
    • Sense of Purpose: Having a source of income and responsibility for housing expenses can provide individuals with a sense of purpose and accomplishment, which can improve self-esteem and mental well-being.
    • Distraction from Substance Use: Engaging in employment can serve as a constructive distraction from substance use by filling time with productive activities and goals.
  2. Physical Benefits:
    • Improved Health: Stable housing provides a safe and secure environment that supports better physical health outcomes. Access to amenities like hygiene facilities and nutritious food can contribute to overall well-being and reduce the risk of health complications associated with homelessness.
    • Reduced Exposure to Harmful Environments: Living in stable housing decreases exposure to risky environments associated with substance abuse, such as unsafe living conditions or interactions with drug-using peers.
  3. Social Benefits:
    • Reintegration into Society: Employment can facilitate the reintegration of individuals into mainstream society by fostering connections with coworkers, supervisors, and community members. This social integration can help reduce feelings of isolation and stigma associated with addiction.
    • Strengthened Support Networks: Stable employment can lead to the development of supportive relationships and networks, which are crucial for individuals in recovery. These connections can provide emotional support, encouragement, and accountability.

Overall, earning money to pay for housing can empower individuals with mental illness and drug addiction by promoting stability, enhancing self-worth, improving physical health, and fostering social connections—all of which are essential elements of recovery from addiction.

In contrast, Housing First denies people social connections, dignity, and self-worth. Furthermore, the Housing First Model has been tried in California and in Boulder, and it fails to help those dealing with mental health and addiction issues.

Transforming toxic altruism into authentic charity involves shifting the focus from one’s need to reduce one’s guilt towards meaningful action and fostering genuine connections with those in need. The goal is to become a creator of solutions rather than a victim of circumstances. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Forgive Yourself: It’s important to recognize that feeling guilty about others’ homelessness, especially if you didn’t directly contribute to it, is misplaced. Guilt should stem from neglecting personal responsibility, not simply from having a home while others do not. Instead of dwelling on your bad feelings, forgive yourself and others. Realize that if you knew better, you would do better.
  2. Gratitude: Focus on solutions that work. Feel gratitude for what works to help open your mind to solutions. With feelings of gratitude, envision the best solution for all involved.
  3. Prioritize Meaningful Action: Prioritize meaningful actions that provide tangible support to those in need. This could involve volunteering at shelters, donating to organizations that provide housing and support services, or advocating for policy changes that address homelessness in your community.
  4. Seek Win-Win Interactions: When interacting with homeless individuals, strive to create win-win situations where both parties benefit. Avoid approaches that may belittle or disempower the person in need. Instead, engage in genuine conversations and offer support in ways that respect their dignity and autonomy. For example, simply asking for their name and engaging in conversation, as suggested by Jack Briggs of Springs Rescue Mission, can foster a meaningful connection and provide an opportunity for mutual enrichment.
  5. Build Genuine Connections: Authentic altruism involves building genuine connections with people based on empathy, respect, and understanding. Take the time to listen to their stories, acknowledge their humanity, and offer support in ways that empower them to overcome their challenges. Building trust and rapport is essential for effective, altruistic charity that truly makes a difference in people’s lives.

By shifting the focus from one’s guilt towards meaningful action and genuine connection, we can transform toxic altruism into authentic charity that truly benefits both those in need and the broader community.

Colorado has a model system for treating unhoused people with addictions and mental health challenges. The Springs Rescue Mission in Colorado Springs has a three-pronged approach to helping people with addictions and mental illness: Shelter First, Healing Second, Vocational Training Third.


the Homeless IndustriAl Complex

The issue of encampments is far bigger than campers. It’s about protecting truth, justice, freedom, and our way of life. The more you look into the encampments, the more you will see corruption done in the name of compassion. And the most tragic thing is that this system INCREASES people’s suffering.

The term “homeless industrial complex” isn’t as widely used or recognized as the “military-industrial complex,” but we can draw parallels between the two to illustrate similarities and differences.

  1. Complex Structure: Just like the military-industrial complex involves a network of relationships between the military, defense contractors, news outlets, lobbyists, and government officials, the homeless industrial complex involves various entities including government agencies, news outlets, shelters, social service organizations, contractors, and developers.
  2. Profit Motive: In both complexes, there’s a profit motive at play. In the military-industrial complex, defense contractors have a vested interest in perpetuating conflict and military spending to maintain their profits. The US Defense budget is $850 million per year. Similarly, in the homeless industrial complex, vested interests profit by encouraging homeless encampments, such as by perpetuating dependence on government housing or services that generate revenue for certain organizations. People in the US spend $2.8 trillion on housing each year. Boulder wants to control 15% of the Boulder housing market. If governments across the country controlled 15% of all housing, that would be $420 billion, or half the US defense budget.
    • The city of Denver spends about $50,000,000 on the homeless and other charities. Non-profits contribute another $90,000,000. This works out to about $26,000 spent for each of the 5300 homeless persons in Denver. If the proposed $50,000,000 to $55,000,000 tax increase is approved, that number is bumped up over $35,000 for each homeless person. ~ Homelessness Industrial Complex – Kim Monson Show
  3. Political Influence: Both complexes wield significant political influence. The military-industrial complex is known for its lobbying efforts and influence over government decision-making regarding defense spending and foreign policy. Similarly, there are growing lobbies for policies that maintain or increase funding for homeless services, even if those policies fail to effectively address the root causes of homelessness.
  4. Propaganda: Both complexes use propaganda to exert influence. The military-industrial complex exaggerates threats of war or engages in false-flag operations. Likewise, the homeless industrial complex incentivizes camping in highly visible parts of cities to make it seem like homelessness is on the rise (when often, the exact opposite is true.) This propaganda gives most people the impression that the camping problem is a homeless problem, when, in reality, it’s an incentive/enforcement/drug/mental illness problem. This propaganda exacerbates homelessness, mental illness, environmental degradation, fire danger, drug addiction, and crime.
  5. Dependency: Both complexes can create a dependency on their services. The military-industrial complex perpetuates a reliance on military solutions to global conflicts, often at the expense of diplomatic or peaceful alternatives. Similarly, a homeless industrial complex perpetuates a cycle of homelessness by focusing on temporary solutions like not enforcing camping bans, Housing First (which exacerbates mental illness and addiction), rather than addressing the systemic issues causing homelessness (ie lack of appropriate incentives, mental health treatment, dignity education programs.
  6. Resource Allocation: Both complexes can distort resource allocation. The military-industrial complex can divert resources away from other important areas like education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Similarly, the homeless industrial complex diverts resources away from long-term solutions like mental health services, education, and career training. All government complexes divert resources from the private sector, which has a far better track record of providing affordable homes.
  7. Ethical Concerns: Both complexes raise ethical concerns. The military-industrial complex is criticized for profiting from war and contributing to global instability. Similarly, the homeless industrial complex should be criticized for profiting from human suffering and perpetuating a cycle of homelessness, despair, and lonliness, rather than addressing its root causes.

While there are similarities between the two complexes, they also have significant differences. For example, the military-industrial complex is a well-known phenomenon and voters are wary of perpetuating endless wars. In contrast, the homeless industrial complex is less well known, and its good intentions (although misguided) tug on the heartstrings of the good-hearted people of Boulder.

The road to totalitarianism is paved with compassion and good intentions.

Other Possible Solutions

Expansion of Shelter Beds and Hours

Call to Action

  • Celebrate the good news with friends:
    • Until 2020, homelessness was declining in US, Colorado, and Boulder.
    • Boulder has enough beds for the homeless. (160 beds for 142 homeless).
    • in US, 1.1 million beds are available to help the 600,000 homeless. (1.7 beds per homeless person).
  • Learn More
    • CitizenPortal.ai – See what your politicians are saying about issues important to you.
    • Check out the resources below.
  • Share what you learn
    • Talk to your friends
    • Suggest improvements to this page
  • Contact City Council with your suggestions.
    • Transform perverse incentives into healing incentives
    • Enforce Laws with Options
      • Leave
      • Jail
      • Get treatment
    • Use money from Housing First (failure) to transform jails into state-of-the-art rehab centers
    • Tell legislators to stop illegal immigration
  • Befriend someone who is struggling.

Learn More

its-not-a-housing-problem by Naomi Schaefer Riley, 2022

The above is a review of Stephen Eide’s 2022 book, Homelessness in America: The History and Tragedy of an Intractable Social Problem

Portlands Encampments Kids
link between fentanyl and homelessness – Guardian
ACLU fights linking benefits to sobriety
Addicts Need Help. Jails Could Have the Answer. New York Times 2017 Sam Quinones
Sam Quinones – How Fentanyl and Meth Took Over America, NYTimes, 2021
Sam Quinones – “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.”
Homelessness Industrial Complex – Kim Monson Show
L.A. Homeless Industrial Complex in Venise Beach
Bad Laws Cause Homeless Crisis


ACLU Lawsuit

City of Boulder responds to camping ban lawsuit, denying allegations of civil rights violations – Boulder Reporting Lab


Housing First Approach: Boulder follows a Housing First philosophy. This philosophy is based on the idea that people can more successfully address other problems (i.e., employment, mental health, addiction) once they are stably housed. Critics claim that a Housing First Approach does not help its target clients, but instead, exacerbates the behavior that made them homeless in the first place, like drug-addiction and mental health problems. Critics also point to more effective programs, like WORK First which provides sense of purpose, dignity, hope, teaches useful skills, and lessens mental illness and dependency on addictive behaviors.

Work First Approach: The WORK First philosophy is based on solid evidence showing that people who contribute to the welfare of others are happier and more productive. Work provides sense of purpose, dignity, and hope. Work teaches useful skills and lessens mental illness and dependency on addictive behaviors. Most importantly, WORK provides sense of connection to community and it offers organic human connection.

OneHome: OneHome is the Coordinated Entry System for the Metro Denver region. Coordinated Entry is a client-centered process that partners with service providers and community members to assess and identify the housing needs of people experiencing homelessness. OneHome Coordinated Entry matches individuals, youth, and families to the appropriate available housing resource while elevating client choice.

Metro Denver Homeless Initiative

Inclusionary Housing (IH) – IH is a regulatory requirement that ensures that all new residential developments provide 25% of the total dwelling units as permanently affordable housing. Many developers work around this regulation by paying a fine. “The primary objective of this chapter is to obtain a significant amount of permanently affordable dwelling units.”

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