Jun 7, 2023 - News

Denver eyes safe parking site expansion for people experiencing homelessness

Illustration of a parking lot with a car-shaped dotted line.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

In a city with a housing crisis, even cars can end up serving as homes.

Driving the news: Denver's Department of Housing Stability wants to add $600,000 to a contract with the nonprofit Colorado Safe Parking Initiative to expand safe parking sites, which provide protected places for people to stay in cars overnight.

  • The additional money would extend the contract from one year to 3.5 years, and pay to add two more sites, bringing the total to four.
  • The money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Why it matters: The city's five-year strategic plan for addressing the unsheltered includes providing parking sites, which officials view as a step toward more permanent housing.

Threat level: The latest available point-in-time count reported 6,888 people were experiencing homelessness on Jan. 24, 2022, including 2,073 people who were unsheltered in metro Denver.

Zoom in: Angie Nelson, deputy director of housing stability and homelessness resolution, said the spaces provide temporary stability.

  • It's a relatively new initiative for Denver: Nelson said the city only began paying for services at the first two sites last year.

Of note: Colorado Safe Parking Initiative executive director Terrell Curtis tells us about 75% of people who use the sites are experiencing homelessness for the first time.

What they're saying: "These are folks who are new to the system, and have managed to hang on to their very last asset in their vehicle," Curtis tells us, adding people staying often have jobs, but don't make enough money to afford permanent housing.

Context: Right now, parking lots at First Universalist Church of Denver and First Baptist Church currently serve as safe sites.

  • Cars are allowed to stay overnight, with eight per site.

Yes, but: The two new sites will host between 10 to 12 cars each, though exact locations haven't been determined, Curtis tells us.

  • If the contract expansion is approved, one site would be added by the end of this year, while the second would arrive by August 2024.
  • Additional services, like access to case managers who can connect people to things like permanent housing would also be paid for.

Be smart: People interested in a safe parking spot need to apply and are screened by the nonprofit.

What's next: A Denver City Council committee is set to hear the proposal on Wednesday.

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