The parking lot of the Denver Coliseum is “under serious consideration” as the site for the first “Safe Outdoor Space,” a sanctioned and managed camping space for people experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Michael Hancock’s chief of staff, Evan Dreyer, confirmed Thursday.
On July 1, Hancock announced “with some reluctance” his support of the Safe Outdoor Space proposal that was brought forth in April by the Colorado Village Collaborative, which runs the city's “tiny home” village.
Hancock said he based his decision on these being “extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures,” a pivot that comes eight years after the city passed its urban camping ban and barely a year since Denver residents voted overwhelmingly to uphold it. (A Denver county judge has since ruled the camping ban unconstitutional, and the city has appealed that decision.)
A week later, Hancock asked a group of council members who, in late April, had written to him lobbying for a temporary sanctioned outdoor space.
In Hancock’s letter to Council members Robin Kniech, Candi CdeBaca, Amanda Sandoval, Jamie Torres, Paul Kashmann, Stacie Gilmore, Debbie Ortega and Chris Hinds, he said the city’s intent was to work closely with the Colorado Village Collaborative to set up two to three 50-tent campsites, each with enough room for up to 60 people.
CdeBaca, who represents District 9 in which the Denver Coliseum sits, said in a statement Thursday that she was “saddened that the Mayor asked for feedback without any intentions of honoring it.
“We will work with any situation because of the urgency of the need, but we hope to see a site in every district within the next month,” she wrote in an email. “We cannot continue to concentrate inequities in a single neighborhood or district just because it is the most politically convenient option.”
In response to the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the city established two large homeless shelters at the Denver Coliseum and the neighboring National Western Complex, both of which are in CdeBaca’s district.
CdeBaca said her office offered up “several private sites and even studied one particular site early on, only to be told by Community Planning and Development that it was too difficult for the city’s executive branch to work with. Then in order to respond to the Mayor’s request last week, I solicited my constituents' feedback and provided our recommendations to his office,” she said. “However, we were informed his decision was made prior to receiving the input he solicited.”
The mayor's office maintains that no plans have been finalized yet, however Dreyer told Colorado Politics in a text message that the city will be making its decision in "the coming days," but it won't be coming Friday.
At least 4,171 people are experiencing homelessness in Denver, according to the latest Point-in-Time survey that was released earlier this week. Of the more than 6,100 people living unhoused in the entire metro area, 51% were living in shelters within the region. A quarter of those surveyed said they were staying outdoors.