The Denver City Council approved a resolution Tuesday to fund two Safe Outdoor Spaces for the remainder of 2021, providing sanctioned homeless campsites for up to 100 households.
The resolution, passed by a 10-1 vote, approves an $899,569 contract with the Colorado Village Collaborative to manage the sites until Dec. 31 and provide amenities and services to residents.
Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer was the only member who voted no on the resolution. She argued that in May 2018, Denver voters voted against allowing urban camping in the city.
“I don’t understand why we are spending our time and money defending urban camping ban in court on one hand, and then funding urban camping on the other,” Sawyer said.
“I think we’re sending mixed messages and breaking the trust of our voters.”
Chandler said the encampments work to reduce the spread of COVID-19, reduce the neighborhood impact of unsanctioned camps and provide residents with a gateway to more permanent housing.
“This is not the same issue that was voted on in 2018,” Chandler said. “This is a resource-rich, service-rich encampment model that is fully monitored by staff 24 hours a day.”
At the sanctioned encampments, residents are provided with heated tents, food donations, dental care, food stamps, COVID-19 testing, community service opportunities to address tickets and services for permanent housing.
In the encampment at Denver Community Church managed by the Colorado Village Collaborative, five residents have moved into tiny home villages, two have received housing vouchers and eight are receiving case management.
Sawyer also said that she doesn’t think the encampments are a good enough solution and that homeless residents deserve real housing.
In response, Councilwoman Robin Kniech said if “we’re going to address this crisis only with long-term solutions and no emergency solutions, then lives will be lost in the interim. … I’m not willing to make that sacrifice.”
According to Chandler, all of the residents of the sanctioned encampment were sleeping outdoors prior to moving in and 32 of them came from an illegal unmanaged campsite directly across the street, a campsite which is now gone.
Kniech said while feelings were mixed when the city introduced the idea of sanctioned homeless encampments, she has received no complaints from constituents since the encampments opened.
“To say the community does not support this model and does not want to see it … is misstating,” Kniech said. “If this is our destination we’re in big trouble but this is not our destination. We are accelerating the supportive housing pipeline.”
The Colorado Village Collaborative’s first Safe Outdoor Space opened at Denver Community Church in December, with the intention of closing by May 31.
With the approval of this contract, the encampment will now operate through December; however, Chandler said it will relocate from the church grounds in May as previously promised. Its next location has yet to be determined.
A third Safe Outdoor Space will also be opened and operated by the St. Francis Center by April. This encampment’s location hasn’t been chosen but it will not be in District 10 since the Denver Community Church site is already there.
It is unclear what will happen to the city’s first Safe Outdoor Space currently operating adjacent to the First Baptist Church.