Denver City Council sends $3.9 million to secure campsites

At its Feb. 7 meeting, the Denver City Council approved an allocation of $3.9 million in federal COVID relief funds for safe outdoor spaces, which will bolster the city’s Safe Campsites Program.

“The city is asking for a solution to homelessness daily, and SOS sites are a critical response to that,” Councilwoman Jamie Torres said before the council voted 11-1 in favor of the contract with the Colorado Village Collaborative, l non-profit organization that manages the sites.

CVC’s Secure Campsites program transforms parking lots into outdoor communities, setting up uniform tents with centralized access to sanitary facilities and services. The CVC currently operates three sites and plans to add another soon, running four simultaneously for most of 2022, which would serve a total of 370 people. CVC hopes to place ninety of those people in permanent housing this year. In 2021, service providers were able to help transition 47 people from the sites to more stable housing.

Of the $3.9 million, 48% will go to endowment; 31% for start-up costs, program supplies and maintenance; 11% to customer support; and 10% to indirect costs. At full capacity, the CVC expects to have approximately eight employees working at each site.

Some board members praised the safe campsite model. “Where do we want people? I believe the people of Denver overwhelmingly believe that it’s better for people to be in a healthy, supportive environment with some services to get them on the path to stability than to have people in unregulated encampments,” Councilor Robin Kniech said.

Although Paul Kashmann voted for the award, he expressed hesitation about the overall concept. “I’m not thrilled to death with safe outdoor spaces,” he admitted. “I wish we didn’t need it. People deserved dignified housing with a door that closes and a place to put their things.”

Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who has always voted against funding safe campsites, was the only one to vote “no”. “We all want to help people. We just have different opinions on how we should prioritize our spending,” she explained.

Although he was initially opposed to allowing secure campsites in Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock embraced the concept in the summer of 2020, and the first secure campsites were set up on Capitol Hill and Uptown in December 2020. Almost everyone who moved into a secure campsite had lived in unprotected environments, including on the street.

“We’ve really found this to be a valuable tool to add to the suite of hosting services that help meet people where they are and meet those practical needs, and help people to get into something safer and meet them where they are,” said Angie Nelson, Deputy Director of the Department of Housing Stability.

There has been some opposition from neighbors to nearly every site, including administrative appeals and legal action. So far, none of these actions have resulted in a site being shut down, but more hearings are scheduled for this month.

Council representative Chris Hinds noted that his district has not experienced any issues when hosting sites in the Capitol Hill area. And his colleague Chris Herndon recalled: “I remember when a site was coming to South Park Hill and the neighbors were angry because they didn’t know what the site actually was and what it was going to do. We went to our worst thought about what could happen.And then the site opened, and there was no call for service by police district two.

The CVC, which operates a site at Regis University in partnership with the St. Francis Center until the end of June, is currently looking for two more sites to pair with two sites that are expected to last at least until the end of the year. : in a parking lot owned by Denver Health at 780 Elati Street and in a parking lot owned by the City of Denver at 3815 Steele Street.

Sally J. Minick