Frustration emerges from announcement of Denver’s first sanctioned homeless camp

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DENVER (KDVR) — The first sanctioned, staffed camping operation in Denver is set to open Dec. 1 in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. 

The encampments, referred to as Safe Outdoor Spaces, are a collaboration between Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Radian Inc., Colorado Village Collaborative, Earthlinks and other groups. The spaces will offer shelter to unhoused people in Denver during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Kathleen Van Voorhis, the director of housing justice with Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, says they received a temporary zoning permit from the City of Denver Friday to move forward with the first site at First Baptist Church near East 14th Avenue and Grant Street. She says they’re still waiting on the permit for the second site at Denver Community Church’s Uptown location.

Organizers held meetings Thursday and Saturday to explain to neighbors how the encampments will operate. Each space will feature onsite staff at all times, rules and guidelines for residents, security services, coronavirus screenings and direct access to services like housing assistance and mental health resources.

Some neighbors are frustrated that they weren’t notified of the encampments until early November.

“I know a lot of people on the call felt like this was sprung on them with no notice and the only reason they even organized these calls was to cover themselves, and make it look like they were involving people who do live here,” said Laura Campbell, who lives half a block from one of the sites.

Campbell says she feels there was a lack of transparency throughout the process and is concerned the encampments could turn into a public safety issue.

The Safe Outdoor Spaces are located on private property and did not require a public comment session prior to approval. 

Denver County Council member Chris Hinds represents District 10. He says Safe Outdoor Spaces are not ideal.

“Ideally, we would have housing wraparound services. But COVID and everything else in 2020 are requiring creativity, and Safe Outdoor Spaces are the best of our less-than-ideal options. Homelessness is an issue that is citywide and beyond, and I invite other areas of the city to follow District 10’s leadership,” Hinds said.

The Denver City Council unanimously approved a zoning change in October to allow for the temporary camps to move forward. That allowed the non-profits behind the effort to apply for a temporary zoning permit. 

Travis Leiker, President of Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods says their organization was made aware of the plans early on and worked closely with the groups involved. However, he says they did not receive official notice that the sites were secured until early November.

“I share the frustration in respects to the timeframe. But I think we need to give service providers as well as the host sites some grace. I think we, collectively as neighbors, as organizations and certainly service providers have been waiting for some level of action and activity. I also think we’re up against barriers with mother nature. We’re all concerned with winter coming around the corner and want to get as much service and support as we can for those in need,” said Leiker.

Questions can also be submitted online.

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