The Five Points Business Improvement District wants to know more about a proposed city-run homeless encampment at the Charles R. Cousins Plaza in the east Denver neighborhood.
The site hadn't been on previous lists of potential sites for three temporary managed camps to address the need in a city with an urban camping ban that keeps the homeless from sleeping in other public spaces.
The improvement district leaders said Monday they learned just last weekend in a Facebook post by Mayor Michael Hancock that site could locate in their neighborhood's backyard.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock revealed on Facebook Saturday afternoon that a piece of city property in Five Points has potential for a managed campsite for homeless people.
The mayor promised a vigorous public comment process, and the Business Improvement District said Monday that's what its members expect.
The Colorado Village Collaborative, which is working with the city to address homelessness, was asking for volunteers Monday to canvass in the neighborhood to spread the word.
City and organization leaders are planning virtual town halls on Wednesday at 5 p.m., Thursday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 11 a.m.
Deputy Chief of Staff Erin Brown will be moderating the town halls. Cuica Montoya from the Colorado Village Collaborative will also be present, in addition to representatives from Denver City Council, Curtis Park Neighbors and Five Points Business District.
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“The Five Points Business Improvement District’s mission is to positively influence financial accountability and cultural responsibility as this neighborhood undergoes redevelopment and growth,” board president Paul Books said in a statement. “Our organization believes strongly in a ‘whole-system’ approach to revitalizing the Five Points area, going beyond issues like economic development to consider education, transportation, safety, children and families, homelessness and public health.
"We believe we have a responsibility to advocate for our neighborhood and ensure the voices of our community are heard. We don’t believe that’s happening in this instance.”
Joey Bunch: "Denver’s need is not in question. Everything else is."
The business group said it knew of no prior discussions with businesses or neighborhood leaders before the announcement Saturday.
“This community has demonstrated time and again a willingness to work side by side with our housed and unhoused neighbors to address the challenges of homelessness in our city,” Books stated. “Five Points is home to many of the shelters in the Denver community today. We empathize and bear daily witness to the impacts of this worsening crisis. We have proven to be committed partners in coming up with solutions for years. At issue here is the total lack of transparency and inclusiveness on behalf of the city of Denver and the Colorado Village Collaborative in determining the site of this particular encampment.”
The Business Improvement District cited reasons it thinks the site is unsuitable, including that it's next to the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, "a vital local gathering place for children and families in our community and a lifeline to resources in this pandemic," the organization stated. "In this moment, safe access to local resources like this are essential, especially since children in our neighborhood are already disproportionately affected by the pandemic and the challenges of virtual learning."
The district said Five Points already deals with the most pressing homelessness and affordable housing issues in the city and is home to several shelters already.
"We ask that our neighboring districts step up and demonstrate a similar level of commitment to addressing the homelessness crisis in our city," the business district said.
The business advocacy group said that it was working on a different plan for the plaza before the COVID-19 shutdown, to transform it into a "vibrant community resource and asset." They want to know why the site was chosen and why the organization wasn't contacted.
The district asked the city to slow down and provide a "thorough and inclusive" public comment process, instead of virtual town halls after little notice to the community.
The list of requests to the city also includes "a clear vision for the operation of the proposed encampment, including funding, services, safety and a concrete timeline for opening and closing the proposed camp."
They also asked for a demonstrated understanding of and plan for addressing issues surrounding a likely increased police presence in the Five Points neighborhood, as a result of the proposed encampment.
The Business Improvement District provided a statement from Ryan Cobbins, who owns Coffee at The Point in Five Points:
“Many in our community are in the fight of their lives as a result of this pandemic, and the decisions made right now will have ramifications for decades to come. We’ve seen the result of local and federal policies determined without the participation or consent of this neighborhood. Those decisions have historically resulted in disinvestment, contributed to poor health outcomes, and negatively impacted public safety in our community. We deserve a fair opportunity to advocate for the future of our neighborhood.”
Monday on Facebook, Hancock urged the public to speak up at the virtual public hearings.
"No final decisions have been made and would not be without first engaging with you, the community," he wrote.
Hannah Metzger of The Denver Gazette contributed to this report.