After years of working for approval, Denver’s first community of tiny homes for the city’s homeless people has officially begun to take shape.
But you might not say the army of volunteers at 38th and Walnut streets “broke ground” on the Beloved Community Village today. Instead the temporary collection of 11 100-square-foot homes has been set nicely on the empty lot next to Black Shirt Brewing Co., a feature that ensures the teeny neighborhood can move to more permanent digs down the line.
The trial village has been met with much support from Denverites.
“I was getting an email a minute,” after news broke of the build, said Mary Johnson of Mennonite Disaster Service, a group that’s working to organize volunteers. Johnson said she got well more than 500 asks from locals wanting to volunteer. While she said they’re thrilled for the support, and can use that elbow grease down the line, she added that they’re very much full for this job.
All that muscle means roofs for 14 people will be raised in a matter of weeks. If they stick to their schedule, the coalition led by Denver Homeless Out Loud, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, Bayaud Enterprises Inc. and the Beloved Community Mennonite Church will be up in record time.
The kickoff attracted local neighbors Rita Balzer and Elizabeth Martinez, who were thrilled to see the work happening. Though a common criticism of homeless services centers around fears of what it might bring to a neighborhood, Balzer and Martinez said they were pleased to see effort behind what they said was a good cause.
“It takes a village to do a village,” Martinez said. “We’re happy about it.”
Among the working volunteers were future residents, Cleo and Chris Ollar.
“I’m looking forward to being able to rest,” said Cleo, who told Denverite this will be her first home. Ollar said even six months of stability will offer a “clarity” of mind that might help her focus on her priorities.
While advocates for Denver’s homeless say the strength in this approach is how quickly and cheaply new space can be constructed, compared to long waits on larger developments. But there are a few variables that need to be tested.
The biggest concern is sanitation as it’s related to water access. At a public forum last December, City Council President Albus Brooks said plumbing was the only thing holding back a project that had been previously proposed. The Beloved Community Village too has not found a long-term solution to this problem. The temporary setup on Walnut will be serviced by portable toilets and a bathhouse with wastewater that needs to be regularly collected.
Even so, volunteers and advocates were elated to finally move forward on their grassroots effort. And it’s clear this really is just the beginning.
“We’re not going to pretend that we’re solving homelessness,” said Terese Howard of Denver Homeless Out Loud. But, she continued, it’s a step in the right direction.
“It’s extremely empowering,” she said.