Every day, Donald “Phil” Chitester wakes up on the street around the same time that Boulder’s morning commuters are heading to school or work. Phil then commutes to a bench across from the CU campus and panhandles until he can afford breakfast.
Despite support from some residents, Chitester and other homeless people in Boulder face a variety of problems ranging from hostile community members to extreme natural conditions that include the recent flash floods.
Chitester typically doesn’t worry about these problems as he waits for a passersby on Broadway to donate to his daily earnings.
“[Homeless people] are seen as a product of society, so no one goes out of their way to talk to them, they just leave ‘em alone,” Chitester said.
CU junior Nicole Cohen said she is usually too afraid to talk to the homeless people she sees near Old Main or by the Boulder Creek.
“They are scary, because I don’t know their motives,” Cohen said.
Others don’t want to be near the homeless even when they are paying customers in local eateries, according to Sam Lin.
Lin is the manager of Tra Ling’s Oriental Cafe and You and Mee Noodle House. He said he has received negative feedback for letting vagrants eat in his restaurants and loiter nearby.
Some people complain that they have to eat alongside transients and that someone “dirty” sitting outside dissuades them from entering, Lin said. Still, the cafe and noodle house allow homeless people who don’t bother others to sit and dine freely.
Some days Chitester and other homeless people have to shift their daily routine because of the weather in Boulder, which can range from high temperatures to hazardous situations like those created earlier this month when many parts of the city experienced flash flooding.
“People that were sleeping out, their tents are gone, their sleeping bags are gone,” said Jeremiah Corcoran, a homeless man in his early 50s. “Everything that they own is gone.”
Corcoran said the homeless are able to handle tough situations like that because they are “a very resourceful and faithful community.”
David Harrison, an attorney at the Boulder firm Miller & Harrison, LLC, said he is worried about homeless Boulder residents receiving citations and tickets from police.
“I was hopeful that the city wouldn’t charge them with illegal camping during the time of the floods,” Harrison said. “Surely the police had better things to do than give homeless people tickets.”
Harrison has represented many transients in cases for illegal camping city ordinances impose penalties for sleeping outside in anything beyond clothes. The homeless are not allowed to lie outside on blankets or in sleeping bags because that is considered illegally camping, he said.
During hot summer days, buildings like the Everyday gas station at the intersection of 13th Street and Broadway become a form of public shelter for some vagrants. This is because there is access to bathrooms, air conditioning and cheap coffee and snacks, according to the store’s cashier Pankaj Dangi.
“The homeless people who come in here are nice, but they do weird things,” Dangi said. “One guy came in, grabbed some ice, and put it all on his head, like a bath. Another guy got a beer, put it on the counter and left without paying. Then he came back in and did it again, three or four times.”
Chitester said he uses facilities like the gas station. He has lived in Boulder for eight years because of the clean mountain air, camaraderie among the transient population and short-walking distance to services.
“There’s a community table, a church rotation that feeds people on Sundays, and in the winter the churches have a warming center where they sometimes give food, too,” Chitester said.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Gabriel Larsen-Santos at Gabriel.firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter/gablarsan.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Yuchen Wu at Yuchen1107@gmail.com, twitter/yuchen1107.