By John Herrick and Henry Larson, Boulder Reporting Lab
Two months before the use of methamphetamines shut down the library last month, the City and County of Boulder started implementing a program to help people wean off the highly addictive stimulant that has communities scrambling for solutions. The relatively cheap and readily available drug contributes to homelessness, overdose deaths and incarceration rates.
In October 2022, Boulder County repurposed one of its office buildings to provide temporary outpatient drug addiction treatment, including for people who are addicted to methamphetamine.
The addiction treatment center off Broadway is run by Tribe Recovery Homes Inc., a Denver-based organization that mostly manages sober living homes.
According to county officials, about 12 people are visiting the center for clinical and therapeutic services and peer support.
The addiction recovery work is paid for through a $900,000 grant the county won in 2021 from the U.S. Department of Justice. While medication is often used to ease cravings to opioids, the most common treatment for people addicted to methamphetamine is behavioral therapy.
The county’s outpatient treatment center was set up as a temporary solution while the City of Boulder found a property it could buy and use for inpatient treatment. Tribe would still provide the services. City of Boulder officials said this month they are in the process of closing a deal on a home. If all goes as planned, the recovery home could be up and running in a matter of months.
“It takes time for folks to get stable,” Jim Adams-Berger, the strategic initiatives division manager for Boulder County’s Community Services Department, told Boulder Reporting Lab. “That happens best in some kind of inpatient, supportive recovery home-type environment.”
The city is planning to use money from its Affordable Housing Fund to pay for the home. The county, meanwhile, has also committed $600,000 to help purchase the property. City and county officials preferred not to disclose the location of the home, in part due to concerns about potential opposition from neighbors.
The recovery home will be an incremental step toward addressing methamphetamine addiction in Boulder County. In 2020, the county estimated 535 people who passed through the Boulder County Jail were addicted to methamphetamine, according to its grant proposal. (There are currently 412 people incarcerated or detained in the jail, according to state data.)
Ultimately, the county wants to have at least three, three-bedroom homes providing recovery services, according to its grant proposal. The residents would live in the home for two to three months. Over three years, the program aims to serve 207 people. This does not include the outpatient center on Broadway.
After residents leave the home, Tribe clinicians will monitor their progress, according to the county.
“They are one of the few service providers that are not afraid of methamphetamine addiction or polysubstance addiction,” Heidi Grove, the systems manager for Homeless Solutions Boulder County, told Boulder Reporting Lab, referring to Tribe. “Something that we really wanted to bring into the county is somebody who’s not afraid to tackle some really challenging substance addictions.”
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The county aims to serve people who have been involved in the criminal legal system, and clients will likely be referred to the program by law enforcement. The county has said the program will include support with housing, employment, public benefits, transportation, identification cards, childcare and other services. All of these services make it easier to kick a drug addition, according to Tribe.
“When you’re in a single-family home that’s in a neighborhood, there’s public transportation. You have an opportunity to get your license back, you have an opportunity to engage with your family again…and get yourself all together,” Thomas Hernandez, the founder of Tribe, said.
City and county officials had anticipated getting the residential treatment program up and running last summer. But the process of finding and purchasing a property caused delays.
This was anticipated. In its grant proposal, the county cited the “high cost and limited availability of affordable housing” and “significant resistance” from residents to homeless shelters and supportive housing.
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Kurt Firnhaber, the city’s director of Housing and Human Services, is working to close the deal on one of the properties. “We are currently working through some issues related to the property where we are planning to host this service,” Firnahber said in a recent email. He said he was not available for an interview.
If the city is able to purchase a home, county officials anticipate the residential treatment program will begin accepting people in the coming months.
“We have the resources,” Adams-Berger said. “But the hurdle really is finding a place.”
The issue of methamphetamine addiction received renewed attention in recent weeks after the Boulder library closure. The cleanup work, estimated to cost $125,000, is just one example of the far-reaching impacts of methamphetamine addiction on the broader community.
Before the library’s closure, the city and county officials wanted to invest in residential treatment as a means of reducing homelessness. Landlords often refuse to sign leases with people who have a history of methamphetamine use, due to concerns over contamination.
Several rental properties across the city, including those owned by Boulder Housing Partners, the city’s largest recipient of the city’s affordable housing dollars, have been contaminated with methamphetamine, according to state records. This is one of the reasons why the city and the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, a nonprofit that runs the city’s largest homeless shelter, are buying properties to turn into affordable housing. Adams-Berger said the county is creating a pot of money to help property owners pay for the cost of remediation.
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