Jun 14, 2021 - News

Denver aims to become a national leader in homelessness resolution

A photo of insulated tents lined up on a church parking lot in Denver's Park Hill neighborhood.

The new Park Hill sanctioned campsite. Photo courtesy of the Colorado Village Collaborative

Denver is striving to become a leader other policymakers look to when it comes to tackling homelessness.

Why it matters: Addressing the issue has taken on new urgency in cities across the country over the past year, as officials grapple with a growing unhoused population and the need to preserve public safety during the coronavirus pandemic.

Driving the news: At a news conference Thursday honoring the city's third sanctioned homeless campsite at Regis University, Denver's public safety director Murphy Robinson acknowledged "many safe outdoor spaces to come," investments he said would set "a precedent for the nation."

  • Based on two previous sites in Capitol Hill (whose six-month leases have expired), it's clear people experiencing homelessness are benefiting from connections to "critical services, support, employment and housing," he said.

Context: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who was initially reluctant to embrace temporary city-sanctioned campsites, is now a proponent, telling Axios in February that he was exploring whether they could work permanently β€” but he needed to see "at least three" sites to be sure.

  • As of now, Denver has a $900,000 contract in place with Colorado Village Collaborative to support up to two temporary managed campsites through 2021, and that agreement appears likely to expand.

Yes, but: Resistance remains among some residents living in areas where the sites have been proposed, despite little uproar raised in places they've been established.

  • Residents in Park Hill filed a lawsuit against a site soon set to open at a Methodist Church in the neighborhood, but it was recently kicked out of court.
  • The site was slated to open tomorrow but has been delayed between a week and 10 days to finish setting up electricity and inspections, CVC executive director Cole Chandler told Alayna.

What they're saying: "I don't think it's ever going to be easy to site a project that provides residential services to people experiencing homelessness; I think that's a sad condition of our society," Chandler said. "But I have hope that the work we're doing is changing the conversation and people's minds and hearts and positions on this issue."

  • Neighborhood support is "key" to becoming a national model, Robinson said, "and we have to understand β€” as neighbors β€” that these are our neighbors."

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