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A couple of model tents and living spaces are seen during the media tour of a Denver Safe Outdoor Space at Belong Church in Denver on Oct. 2, 2020. The SOS is part of a partnership between Belong Church, the Colorado Village Collaborative and the Interfaith Alliance. (Forrest Czarnecki/The Gazette)

Denver’s Department of Housing Stability is seeking proposals from land owners and service providers interested in helping the city stand up temporary sanctioned camping sites for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 emergency. 

For nearly four months, roadblocks and community backlash have stunted city leaders’ efforts to establish city-sanctioned campsites, or “Safe Outdoor Spaces,” after the pandemic pushed Mayor Michael Hancock to endorse them in July.

The sites, to be open and managed 24 hours a day, are designed as alternatives to the city’s traditional shelters, which can act as petri dishes for contagious illnesses, especially COVID-19. The encampments will also welcome couples and pets, both of which aren’t allowed under Denver’s shelter rules, keeping many people on the streets.

The Colorado Village Collaborative will manage at least one of the campsites, CVC director Cole Chandler told Colorado Politics on Thursday, and possibly more. The CVC has secured about $300,000 from private donors for the first site, which will cover startup costs, plus six months of operation, including 24-hour staff and tent supply. 

The remaining campsites will be funded through HOST and either managed by CVC if picked in the RFP process, or by other service providers whose proposals top the list.

HOST is seeking submissions that span the management of "and/or other innovative approaches to temporary emergency sheltering," the housing department said Thursday in its request for sanctioned camping proposals. The submissions should also cover services at the camping sites through the end of 2021, with possible extensions.

Hancock had initially proposed establishing up to three sites, but Britta Fisher, Denver’s chief housing officer, said plans have evolved to potentially include more. 

“When the mayor spoke about having several sites, it became clear that we needed to look for multiple partners and multiple sites,” Fisher said in a phone interview. How many, however, depends on what’s proposed. 

“We’re open to seeing how our dollars could be leveraged,” she said. 

As of late Thursday afternoon, Fisher said no proposals had been received, nor any decisions reached. 

HOST is seeking responses from service providers that have experience serving unhoused people "in outdoor environments in a trauma-informed and person-centered way." 

The agency is also looking for one or more proposals from service providers looking to provide managed support at city-owned or controlled sites, "and/or at privately held sites where the proposer has demonstrable site access for operations and services."

Interested parties are invited to submit their proposal online. Proposals will be accepted until 3 p.m. Nov. 13. A pre-bid virtual conference will be held at 9 a.m. Nov. 3.

Two major milestones this month helped clear the path for the RFP process, Fisher said. Denver City Council approved the transfer of $450,000 from the city’s general fund to its COVID-19 emergency fund to support the campsites and, one week later, approved a temporary zoning change that frees up about 21% of city area land under the “old” Former Chapter 59 zoning code for emergency uses, namely Safe Outdoor Spaces.

“These all marked progress toward this RFP with more sites and funds available for consideration,” Fisher said. 

Denver Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca said in a statement that she suspects the first campsite will be located in her district, which includes the Five Points, Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods. 

“The city has not reached out to my office about its potential location in the district, nor have they involved us in any discussions leading up to the issuance of this RFP,” she said Thursday. “I support the SOS concept and believe that transparency is critical in order for a pilot like this to be successful. I also believe that all districts, not just our district, need to share the burden of the city’s housing and homelessness crisis — it cannot be one district carrying this citywide challenge alone.”

The Hancock administration has proposed two different campsite locations — the parking lot of the Denver Coliseum and a small strip of right-of-way between Sonny Lawson Park and the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library — both of which are in CdeBaca’s district. The two sites were withdrawn shortly after following community opposition. 

The soonest any decisions will be made regarding the RFP process will be in December, Fisher said. 

“But remember, that’s for our funding of proposals,” she said. “That doesn’t stop any partner who has funding or has sites from pursuing those.”

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