Denver Safe-Camping Sites Face Increasing Administrative Challenges

While the safe camping site model for homeless people now enjoys the full support of the City of Denver, service providers still face opposition from residents who wish to prevent such facilities from being established in their neighborhoods. .

“What worries me is that it looks like there might be a small minority of opposition people who just decided on this as a strategy. It looks like if that is the case, that the community support it or not, there might be people who take us through this process, ”said Cole Chandler, executive director of the Colorado Village Collaborative, who pushed the Concept of safe outdoor spaces and currently operates secure camping sites at Regis University and in parking lots at 780 Elati Street and 3815 Steele Street.

On November 17, 46 neighbors of the 780 Elati Street site, which houses around 35 people, filed an appeal with the Adjustment commission for zoning appeals challenging the city’s issuance of a temporary-use zoning permit to operate the secure camping site in a parking lot owned by Denver Health. On December 14, three landowners who owned land near the Steele Street site, located in a parking lot belonging to the city and which had just opened that day, lodged an appeal against this permit; the site currently has around 33 residents.

A hearing for the Elati Street appeal is scheduled for January 18, while the one for Steele Street is scheduled for February 15.

“We do not intend to discuss the appeal in light of the upcoming hearing,” said Jason Richardson, one of the residents who filed the Elati Street appeal. “Having said that, for the basis of the call, I would direct you to the call itself.”

In the appeal, neighbors cite concerns about second-hand smoke, noise, odors and light, as well as a possible decrease in the value of adjacent properties. They are also concerned about safety; the appeal notes that those convicted of violent crimes or sexual offenses may be eligible to live on the site.

“To date, there have been no issues with SOS residents and children in any of the neighborhoods we’ve called home,” Chandler replies.

Last spring, when the Colorado Village Collaborative proposed a site at a church parking lot in Park Hill, a handful of neighbors protested; Chandler’s team took special precautions with this safe outdoor space project. “The Park Hill was the only SOS that used criminal background checks and sex offender screens as part of the screening process,” Chandler said. “This site was unique, given that Park Hill [United Methodist Church] is also the home of a nursery school. We have taken extra precautions on this site which were not deemed necessary at Elati Street or any other SOS location. ”

The Park Hill site closed last month, in accordance with its lease. “The last time I checked, the homes in South Park Hill where we were located for the past six months and more are still quite valuable,” notes Chandler. “The same goes for the Capitol Hill neighborhood that we called home earlier this year. The city appraiser showed that home values ​​in these neighborhoods continued to increase year on year. I think it’s safe to assume that La Alma / Lincoln Park owners will always enjoy high value homes, and that the city’s assessed value of these homes will increase while SOS is active in their neighborhood. ”

Even so, this site’s permit appeal did not catch Chandler off guard.

“I was not surprised by Elati’s call, as there was neighborhood opposition which arose quite early on. I am encouraged that we have now executed a good neighborly agreement,” said Chandler. “The Steele Street site, I was totally blinded by that call. There was no opposition from the community to this. The neighborhood has early and often signed its support. It was our very first site to open with the Good Neighbor Agreement instead. ”

The three people appealing from the Steele Street site – Michael Kennedy, Robert Reich and Robert Manning – filed their appeal as KRMN Steele, LLC, an entity that had previously expressed a desire to potentially rezone the properties owned by the three people. in the Clayton neighborhood.

A representative from “KRMN Steele LLC met with zoning staff in July 2020 to discuss the possibility of rezoning properties along Steele,” said Laura Swartz, spokesperson for the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development. “We looked at what might be needed if this was something the applicant wanted to pursue and encouraged the applicant to meet with their council office and neighbors / neighborhood organizations before submitting a formal application. To date, the city has not received an official zoning change. request of this applicant. ”

The appeal of Steele Street highlights the fact that the secure campsite has a low barrier to entry and does not automatically exclude those who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. “The operational plan should incorporate ‘tent checks’ to include searches for drugs, alcohol and weapons to ensure that residents of the encampment are following policies allegedly adhered to by CVC,” the appeal argues. In addition, residents are required to undergo weekly drug and alcohol testing to ensure accountability and adherence to CVC operational guidelines.

Chandler responds, “We don’t do any drug or alcohol testing at any of our locations, and we don’t require sobriety. If someone is struggling with an addiction, we first provide that person with a safe place to stabilize, and when they are ready, we provide them with access to services that can help them on their journey to recovery. ”

Chandler has contacted the people who filed this appeal. “I had never spoken to them before,” he says. “And they didn’t respond to my intervention. I’m just disappointed that we weren’t able to communicate as neighbors.”

The three people who appealed did not respond to Westwordrequest for comments.

These two calls are not the first to be heard on secure camping sites. Some Park Hill neighbors have filed an appeal with the Board of Adjustment for Zoning Appeals, challenging the general authority of Denver Zoning Administrator Tina Axelrad to create a temporary use for secure campsites, which are not not listed as approved uses. The board rejected the call in July by a 3-2 vote. In August, council voted 3-2 in favor of a site-specific appeal for the Park Hill location. However, given that a qualified majority of four votes is required to support an appeal, the challenge was dismissed.

After that, the Park Hill group went to court over their issues with secure camping sites. This case remains pending in Denver District Court.

“During the initial zoning determination, the city ensured that the operators of these sites had measures in place to ensure the safety of their guests and to reasonably address the concerns of neighbors. We have seen the positive results of this work, the first Safe Outdoor sites having performed very well, and we look forward to continuing to make these spaces available to residents who need them, ”said Axelrad.

After cautiously approving the safe camping site model in 2020, the administration of Mayor Michael Hancock fully embraced the approach this year. Denver City Council had to approve the lease for the Steele Street site because it is on city property, and the city recently allocated $ 4 million for the safe camping program in 2022.

“We’re encouraged that these sites continue to fill up quickly and serve the people they intend to serve and do so in a really powerful and effective way,” Chandler said. “It keeps us going despite a few loud voices wanting to drag us through an appeal process every time.”


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Sally J. Minick