Posted by The Daily Camera
By Sean Maher, CEO
A few weeks ago, Pamela Dennis wrote a guest opinion in the Camera abo in the Camera about her friends visiting from abroad and their impressions of Boulder. It was disturbing to read but not terribly surprising. After spending a few days in town walking Pearl Street and biking the creek path, their experience was so negative they may never come back. They were harassed, taunted and spit on. Pamela is right to ask how many visitors no longer recommend Boulder as a destination.
A few days after reading that story, I stopped at Trader Joes on my way home from an early hike. It was a little before 8 a.m., so I waited with some other folks for the store to open. As we stood there, we saw a man walk into traffic on 28th Street from the REI parking lot. He didn’t look before he walked into a busy street and was completely oblivious to several cars that hit their brakes to avoid running him over. One driver honked, but the walker ignored her as he slowly made his way toward McDonald’s. One of my fellow early birds quipped, “That guy is going to get killed.” Her husband replied “Maybe that’s his plan.”
By the time they got back to their cars, most of the shoppers had probably forgotten about the sad character stopping traffic. Just another crazy guy in Boulder. Nothing we haven’t all seen a hundred times.
But we cannot continue to talk about the homeless crisis as though more housing and spending more money are the only answers while we look the other way as people endanger their own lives and threaten others. That is not compassionate. It is complacent.
What if one of those cars had hit the man on 28th Street? He likely would have died, and that would be tragic. But what about the driver? Would they face charges for hitting someone that apparently had a death wish? I don’t know, but either way, they would carry a terrible burden for the rest of their life.
Experts tell us that most unhoused people in America are suffering from far more than just financial issues. Many are seriously mentally ill. Others are deeply addicted to drugs. More than a few are dealing with both.
So I totally agree with the recent piece in the Camera by Judy Amabile, Rachel Friend and Tara Winer that argues for investing in new mental health facilities in Boulder County. They are correct in pointing out that just handing someone who is mentally ill or addicted the keys to an apartment is not the answer. Those people need treatment.
But if someone is too sick or too high to look before they walk into a busy street, they are probably not going to seek help or even accept it if offered. Some people need to be taken off the street and placed in a facility where they can be evaluated and treated for whatever demons they are battling.
In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams is empowering NYPD and EMS responders to take people off the street when they are clearly a threat to themselves or others. Predictably, his critics have called him heartless and attacked the policy as a violation of basic human rights.
But what about the rights of others to basic safety? Locals and visitors alike should have the right to walk through Central Park or bike on the creek path without being afraid. Drug deals and propane explosions should not be routine occurrences on the edge of a school campus. Dangerous behavior should never be normalized.
As someone who spent 20 years on Pearl Street running a business and leading the Downtown Boulder Partnership, I worry a lot about what Pamela Dennis pointed out in her column. If tourists stop recommending Boulder as a place to visit and locals start avoiding our most treasured public spaces, then everyone loses. Ignoring people on our streets who are a danger to themselves or others is not compassionate. It is complacent, and it is terrible public policy.
Sean Maher is the CEO of RRC Associates in Boulder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org to blog