Denver Service Providers Offer Safe Campsites For Homeless People In Two Churches


Seven months after service providers first introduced the concept of creating secure campsites in Denver, and four months after Mayor Michael Hancock finally embraced the idea, supporters of the initiative announced plans for two sites in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

“They are both in the parking lots and will be sheltered from general traffic,” said Kathleen Van Voorhis of the Colorado Interfaith Alliance, one of the main supporters of the Safe outdoor spaces initiative. “The two churches also have quite an important relationship with the locals, so this will all be positive for the future.”

Van Voorhis and other contractors working on the project hope that the sites will be operational by December. Their proposal has the adhesion of United Quarters of Capitol Hill and Uptown on the hill organizations.

The site at First Baptist Church, located at 1373 Grant Street, will accommodate up to thirty tents that will house forty women and LGBTQ people. The second site, at Denver Community Church, 1595 Pearl Street, will be home to up to fifty men and women, including couples.

Following a harm reduction model, the sites will target people currently sheltered outdoors using tents. The sites will be stocked with new tents, camp beds, sleeping bags, storage containers, towels and hygiene products. They will also be staffed, with rules and guidelines for residents; those who stay there will have access to job search, housing assistance and mental health resources.

Councilor Chris Hinds, whose district includes both properties of the church, was unaware of the proposal when contacted on Nov. 2 and says he cannot comment specifically on it, but adds that he supports safe outdoor spaces in general.

Van Voorhis notes that Hinds “was a great supporter of the Safe Outdoor Spaces project” and “really saw the need and wanted to help push the idea forward.”

There will be virtual community forums to discuss site proposals on November 19-21.

“We are looking forward to having these community conversations and bringing people to a more positive understanding of why they are so successful and so needed,” Van Voorhis said. She’s not talking about if, but when the sites are online, showing a level of trust that has not accompanied past proposals.

What’s different this time is that both sites are on private land rather than city property, and neither will need the approval of Denver City Council. Instead, they simply require approval by the city’s zoning administrator.

Both churches are zoned according to the old zoning code. Due to stipulations attached to Denver’s current zoning code, adopted by council in 2010, the zoning status of properties still under the old code could not be changed, which meant the type of temporary use permit. necessary for safe camping. site was out of reach for these locations. But last month, council passed a measure that gives the zoning administrator the power to approve temporary use permits for properties zoned under the old code.

This paved the way for these two sites, and more are likely to come.

At the end of October, the Hancock administration launched a call for tenders for secure campsites and service providers to manage these sites; approximately $ 500,000 will go to sites selected through this competitive bidding process.

When Hancock announced his support for the creation of secure camping sites in early July, he said he was ready to allow three sites that can accommodate up to sixty people each. But the administration now seems more flexible.

“I think the ‘up to sixty people’ is definitely something that [the mayor] had seen other cities on the size which may be the most advantageous. Having said that, we will be looking at the proposals that people bring forward, ”said Britta Fisher, Executive Director of the Department of Housing Stability. “Maybe someone has a proposal for a seventy-person site and that makes sense. We’re not going to say no to what’s out there.”

Those involved in the tendering process will also consider secure parking sites for people who are homeless but still in possession of a car.

The Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention advised that during a pandemic, municipalities should not disperse settlements unless housing is available, to avoid spreading the coronavirus. But Denver has continued to sweep the camps, and with the weather getting colder and the number of COVIDs peaking, service providers would like to see as many of these sites as possible, and soon.

“There are more homeless people on the streets in Denver than we’ve ever seen,” Van Voorhis concludes.


Sally J. Minick