Denver City Council Approves Funding for Safe Campsites
In a 10-1 vote, Denver City Council approved the allocation of $ 900,000 to existing and future safe camping sites for homeless people under contract with the nonprofit Colorado Village Collaborative.
“I heard a lot of my constituents say that they thought this would be the best direction to take than what we got with the unregulated camps,” Municipal Councilor Robin Kniech said at the Feb. 16 board meeting before voting in favor of the proposal.
The money will help fund a secure camping site opened in December by the Colorado Village Collaborative in the parking lot of the Denver Community Church at East 16th Avenue and Pearl Street, as well as a future secure camping site at an undetermined location. A second site open in December is located in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church at East 14th Avenue and Grant Street; it is also funded by the private sector and managed by a non-profit organization.
City Councilor Amanda Sawyer was the only member to vote against the funding, arguing that Denver residents had already rejected the idea of urban camping in May 2019, when voters overwhelmingly opposed Initiative 300, which would have repealed the ban on urban camping in the city, among others.
“I think we are sending mixed messages and shattering the trust of our constituents, while confusing our most vulnerable citizens,” Sawyer said. “It is not the only solution to this problem. It is the only solution offered to us.”
As the board meeting unfolded on Zoom, Cole Chandler, director of the Colorado Village Collaborative, answered Sawyer’s argument. “Safe outdoor spaces are not what was on the ballot when Initiative 300 came up,” he said. “These are two entirely different things. This is a resource and service rich camp model that is fully staffed 24 hours a day.”
The roughly seventy residents of the two secure campsites sleep in ice fishing tents and use electric blankets and ground mats to stay warm. Residents have access to portable porta-pots and showers, and can connect with service providers on site. More importantly, while they are at the sites, they don’t have to worry about being forced to move due to a camp sweep.
“We have been able to support on-site case management, outreach, medical and educational services, to name a few,” said Matt Lynn, spokesperson for the Colorado Interfaith Alliance, which manages the secure First Baptist Church campsite in partnership with the non-profit association Earth links. During the freezing cold at the start of the week, the two churches opened their doors to allow the residences to access the interior spaces.
The February 16 vote marks the first time Denver City Council has allocated money for specific safe campsites. In October 2020, council approved the allocation of $ 650,000 to study and create safe campsites in Denver.
CVC, which also operates tiny host villages in Globeville and Cole for homeless people, is looking for a site for a third secure campsite for up to sixty people, which it will operate in partnership with the Saint-François Center. Since the six-month leases with the two churches expire in late May, CVC and the Colorado Interfaith Alliance are also looking for places where they can relocate existing secure campsites.
While Mayor Michael Hancock Was initially skeptical of allowing secure campsites in Denver when service providers first presented the proposal to it in April 2020, city employees are now positive about the concept.
“We hear a lot of good things coming out of the [camps]”, Chris Conner, director of homelessness resolution for the Department of Housing Stability, said at a board committee meeting on Feb. 3.
“The successes are far more important than I expected,” added Cuica Montoya, who manages the Denver community church site, at the same meeting. “It’s a very exciting environment in general.”
Some of the successes at the Denver Community Church site include five residents moving into tiny homes, four residents reconnecting with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and fourteen residents receiving dental health services. And so far, no resident of either site has tested positive for COVID-19.