OpEd: Mike Butler–New Conversation On Homelessness


We spend millions of dollars annually to respond to chronic street homelessness in our community. Not unlike all other communities our size or larger near us and throughout our country, we have ventured down the two-pronged approach of either providing services or utilizing enforcement as our responses. There is not a community in America that has used a different approach. And coincidentally, there is not a community in America that has gotten close to resolving or significantly mitigating homelessness. Now what?
It seems it is time for a whole new conversation that includes possibilities we’ve yet to explore. Do we want to create a future that is different than the present or past? We all hope so. What has to happen to bring about a different future? Or do we just want to remain stuck in the mode every other community finds itself – spending millions of dollars per year on homelessness and having little to no impact?

Until now, we have created services in the form of temporary shelters, affordable housing, food services and other basic assistance. We have relied heavily on public safety too. The reactive public safety resources (police, fire) responding to homelessness have grown significantly over the past few years. Up to 50 percent of our patrol services, especially during the mild and warm months, are focused on homelessness. Our community, not unlike other communities, has shifted back and forth between providing services and enforcement and we often use these responses simultaneously. As this is written, there are more services for those who are homeless being developed and more enforcement against those who are homeless being demanded. Does that sound any different than anywhere else? Nope! Rabbit hole comes to mind.

The invitation is for anyone to do your own research in any other community in America that is experiencing homelessness. Determine for yourself if any community, after providing tons of various services including those mentioned above and ramping up enforcement, has made an impact.

I have lived in Longmont for forty years. It is easy to associate our response to homelessness as a community with the growth of homelessness in our community. And for those of us who have been in this community for a while, it is a train we could see coming. We not only see things in the sequential and the circumscribed sectional stream of flowing events but we are now seeing the related over-time cycle of events – the linear has been replaced by the circular. In other words, what is happening in other cities all around us will eventually happen in Longmont when it comes to homelessness – more millions spent and a worse problem.

The shelter director in Boulder will tell anyone that the number of people sleeping outside in Boulder increased the moment they increased the number of beds in the temporary
shelter and further recommends we not build a shelter in our community. Sounds counterintuitive but it really isn’t when one begins to drill down through the dynamics of what really happens with this type of service.

Along with that, I have been informed (warned) that because our state prisons are full, there will more registered sex offenders and violent sexual predators released into our communities – many of whom are homeless. The state parole representative also let me know that because services to the homeless are so good in Longmont (her words), that we will probably receive more people who are homeless from prison than other communities around us.

So what can we do that is different that encompasses compassion and effectiveness? Can we get beyond reacting to the symptoms with only services and enforcement? Can we identify the real root(or the many roots) of homelessness? Do we continue down the path of quick-fix, one-size-fits-all reactions of just services and enforcement, or do we commit ourselves to the hard work that will be necessary to heal our woundedness.

This is the first of a series of articles regarding homelessness. Anyone is welcome to call me at 303-651-8533(office) or 303-591-8868(cell) or email at mike.butler@longmontcolorado.gov.


  1. a great article ,Thank you . I totally support your views , have followed the homeless issue in Seattle , I have lived in Longmont 49 years , worked Boulder County United Way help line “First Call ” from 1978 to 1995 , many stats about the entire Boulder County , Had several meeting with Larry Hessler as he served on a committee I staffed , I still stay in touch with the non profit community ,

  2. Good article. As an economic developer, allow me to add another dimension to the discussion. While working in Sacramento a few years back, I was called by a business owner who had been confronted with the unpleasant effects of homelessness on his business for more than ten years. He had patiently but unhappily dealt with the human excrement on the steps, the theft from his building, the sex acts and drug use in full view on his property, and even the cutting of his chain link fencing to gain access to the business. But with his walk-in clients’ complaints on the rise, he felt that unless there was some remedy, he would be forced to move his business out of the city, and possibly out of the state. That would mean that his ten employees and their families, were faced with the threat of losing gainful employment because of the impacts of homelessness. Something that we probably don’t often consider.

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