Neighborhood Groups Have Ways to Create Safe Campsites in Denver


Winter is fast approaching and the city of Denver and service providers have yet to establish the first safe camping site for the homeless.

Concerned about the slowdown in Safe outdoor spaces program, four neighborhood organizations recently sent a letter to Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver City Council with their ideas on how to make the concept of safe camping a reality.
The October 12 letter from the management of United Quarters of Capitol Hill, Colfax Business Improvement District, Creative district of the Golden Triangle and Uptown on the hill suggests eight ways the city can move the project forward. The four organizations represent regions that have seen significant numbers of homeless people camp on the streets in recent months. Their ideas :

Set up a request for proposal process

“We know of a number of organizations, both non-profit and for-profit, that have the facilities, capacity, know-how and active interest to support the city’s efforts to tackle homelessness and alleviate concerns about the encampments, ”the letter said.

In recent months, officials of the Hancock administration, as well as representatives of the Colorado Village Collaborative and the Colorado Interfaith Alliance, tried to find ideal locations for sanctioned camps. While the city and nonprofit entities have taken residents’ feedback into account, there is no formal process for submitting suggestions. Formalizing the process would help streamline things.

“I think it makes sense for the city to say, ‘Bring us your best approach and let’s find ways to make it work,'” says Travis Leiker, president of Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods, who adds, “A broad call for ideas has yet to take place at the city level, and I don’t think it is with a bad intention that it hasn’t. ”

Reconsider a unique approach

On July 1, when Hancock announced he would support the secure camping site, he said he would allow up to three sites of sixty people each. The first proposed site, in the parking lot of the Denver Coliseum, failed due to pushback from neighbors. The local opposition also took a spot by Sonny Lawson Park in Five Points on the table. Now is the time to be more agile, says Leiker.

“I think some of the policymakers have come up with – and sorry for the crude analogy – a ‘camp in a box’ approach,” Leiker said. “This one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t seem to be working, because if it worked I think some progress would have been made.”

Instead, those working on the safe campsites initiative should consider smaller sites with fewer occupants as a way to make them more palatable, says Leiker, arguing for “a provision of services, d ‘personalized and site-specific accommodation and routes for those who are experiencing roaming. ”

Provide comprehensive services at each site

While creating more and smaller sites would be less efficient in terms of resource sharing, one way to mitigate this decrease in efficiency would be to create a “roving support team” that could visit each site, suggests the letter.

“Roaming services could be vouchers for more permanent housing, access to food. providing these services on a semi-regular basis, ”explains Leiker. This conceptual vision would always include standard services “which will take place at each site for the sake of neighborhood concerns and the safety of those who live there”, such as “sanitation, security, counseling and counseling services. laundry”.

Provide status reports for the sites under study

Although about a hundred sites have been studied, only two of them have gone public … with very poor results. While there is a risk that revealing a location under consideration will generate early opposition, Leiker believes that “openness, honesty and transparency, with a clear articulation of vision, values ​​and goals ”, will be more effective than“ mystery, suspicion and allow the narrative to shape itself.

The four organizations compare this kind of transparency to what happens with zoning and landmark status applications that go to city council. The process is designed to be extra-transparent, so members of the public and elected officials can determine whether what is being asked for makes sense.

Expand the list of potential sites

Neighborhood organizations say they have heard from groups who have suggested safe camping sites “with little success,” and that their ideas have been rejected either because of zoning issues or other roadblocks.

October 12, Denver City Council voted to remove a major zoning barrier by giving the zoning administrator the power to allow safe camping sites on areas zoned under the old code prior to 2010, which was not possible before.

And there are other potential sites that could be considered. “It could mean open fields, vacant motels, unused and disused monasteries that are already set up for housing,” says Leiker.

Don’t move, move thoughtfully

This is a long term goal that will only be realized if the city has significant capacity in a number of safe camping sites. “Relocating camps to other locations can and should be done infrequently and with compassion and care,” the letter read.

Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention The guidelines recommend that municipalities avoid sweeps if no housing is available, in order to prevent the spread of COVID. But for now, with the lack of secure campsites and campsites throughout Denver, resulting in complaints from neighbors about safety and sanitation issues, “what we’re seeing is a sweep and no follow-up.” , argues Leiker.

“But I hope what the city will do, once these temporary safe outdoor spaces are in place,” he says, “is actually move people, not sweep them up, so they get the services. they need – counseling that is justified, access to food and shelter.

Designate a clear point of contact

Right now, all four organizations say those who want to contribute in some way to Safe Outdoor Spaces don’t know who to contact, and they suggest the city appoint a reference person whose work is focused. about the project. While Cole Chandler, who runs the Colorado Village Collaborative, leads things on the nonprofit side, several Hancock administration officials are involved.

Britta Fisher, Executive Director of the Department of Housing Stability; Evan Dreyer, deputy chief of staff to the mayor; and Bob McDonald, the city’s top public health official, are all collaborating on this project. While their involvement is expected to continue, Leiker says, it would make sense to have “one person leading this initiative,” who can be the city’s main point of contact and also coordinate between the various agencies in Denver.

How neighborhood organizations can help

The city should let neighborhood organizations know how they can help support the initiative. “I can say that the four groups that were parties to this memo are interested in being these opinion partners,” Leiker acknowledges.

“Maybe a step-by-step awareness guide makes the most sense. We don’t want neighbors targeting those who need it most, but we need advice on how to remedy certain situations,” note the letter.

Dreyer, who recently met with those who sent the letter, was “super grateful” for the recommendations, according to Leiker. Britta Fisher, Head of Department of Housing Stability.

“The feedback provided is greatly appreciated as it takes a community response to address the issue of homelessness in our community,” said Derek Woodbury, a spokesperson for the ministry. “The administration met this week and will continue to meet with the leaders of these four organizations to follow up on their concerns and proposed actions.”

After working on the project since the start of the pandemic with the Colorado Village Collaborative, Chandler is particularly excited about the suggestions.

“I am delighted to see such pragmatic and solution-oriented thinking coming from neighbors in Denver,” he said, “and I will contact the authors to discuss ways to advance our common goals.”


Sally J. Minick

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