On moving day for her tiny home village, Silla Wolf was looking ahead to another milestone.
“In a week from today I’m going to be giving my first violin lesson,” Wolf said, sitting on a hotel room bed next to her violin in its case. “My first student! It’s amazing! I am so thrilled and excited and nervous.”
Her feelings were more muted about Beloved Community Village’s relocation from 38th and Blake to 4400 N. Pearl St. in Globeville. Mostly, Wolf said, she was relieved it had finally begun. Cole Chandler of Colorado Village Collaborative, the nonprofit that sponsors the shelter alternative, expected all 11 Beloved Community homes to be on Pearl Street by Tuesday afternoon. Each truck-bed journey takes about 20 minutes over a circuitous route that avoided a low bridge.
On April 29, City Council voted 13-0 to lease 4400 N. Pearl to Colorado Village Collaborative for $10 a year for up to three years. The vote came over angry objections from some in Globeville. Several council members said the village might have closed down if the move had not been approved, leaving people who had experienced homelessness back on the streets.
Opponents say they would have preferred a park, a produce market, something for the community on the vacant, city-owned lot in their long-neglected corner of Denver.
“I completely understand where they’re coming from,” Wolf said. “But at the same time, we’re talking about human lives. We’re talking about people trying to survive, people trying to get on with their lives.”
Wolf said people in Globeville may feel the city is forcing the village on them. She said they should know that authorities in Denver have not always embraced the concept.
“We had to show the city that this works. When we started, our biggest opposition was bigger than Globeville. It was The City,” she said, the capital letters clear in the way she emphasized those last two words.
Since it opened in the summer of 2017, five village residents have moved on to permanent housing and all those living there now are working, going to school or receiving disability income. The Burnes Center on Poverty and Homelessness at the University of Denver found that the village at 38th and Blake had improved the employment prospects and health of its residents. Burnes researchers also found that crime had not increased significantly within a half mile and gone down within a quarter mile of the site, and that neighbors reported few problems associated with the village.
Some of Wolf’s soon-to-be-neighbors at 4400 N. Pearl have expressed fear that people who have experienced homelessness could be substance abusers or sex offenders. Colorado Village Collaborative has agreed to screen potential villagers to keep out sex offenders. Wolf said she didn’t want to live among sex offenders either. Even before the screening, village residents could be kicked out for violence, possessing weapons or drugs, discriminating against others, being persistently disruptive or failing to participate in the communal governance structure. In the past, two villagers were expelled for breaking the rules by threatening violence involving a weapon.
“I hope to be seen as a neighbor, eventually,” Wolf said. “Beloved Community Village was made not just so that homeless people can get off the street. But so that we can have our own home. So that we can have a place to improve ourselves.”
Wolf said the steps Beloved Community has allowed her to take toward one day leaving her 8-foot-by-12-foot dwelling for a permanent home included her studies at Metropolitan State University of Denver, where she is majoring in performance and considering a double major in music education. She has an online craft shop, occasionally works at restaurants and looks forward to adding income as a music teacher.
“I’ve got so many irons in the fires,” Wolf said, the plural “fires” deliberate. She’s saving for a deposit on an apartment, which she might share with a roommate.
For now, the 12 village residents are in a Northeast Park Hill Super 8. They took rooms in the hotel late last week in preparation for the relocation. After being trucked to Pearl Street, the tiny homes were being placed on blocks at spots marked out with sticks. Stairs and ramps need to be installed and city inspectors must sign off before residents move in, expected May 24.
Wolf came to Denver from Ohio because she thought she would be more welcome here as a transgender woman. She quickly found fast-food work didn’t cover the rent. She had been homeless for a year and a half before becoming an original resident of Beloved Community.
The Colorado Village Collaborative had been searching for a new site because 38th and Blake is slated for an affordable housing development. It was offered a site at the Taxi development, but Denver’s Public Works department said in November that plot was inappropriate, citing flood concerns. At the time, the village was facing a March 1 deadline to move set by the Urban Land Conservancy, the real estate nonprofit that owns the 38th and Blake lot.
While the conservancy eventually extended the lease, Colorado Village Collaborate and the city felt pressed for time. In the scramble to find a new site, the city and Colorado Village Collaborative have acknowledged they did a poor job of talking to Globeville neighbors. Along Pearl Street Monday, red-white-and-black “no tiny home village in Globeville” signs adorned a few regular-size houses. People who came to watch the first tiny homes arrive said they still felt their desires and concerns had been ignored.
It didn’t help, said Angela Garcia, that the first she heard about the tiny homes being moved in was a call from a neighbor who had heard it on the news earlier Monday. The city had sent an email Wednesday to Globeville’s registered neighborhood organizations and to people who had attended neighborhood meetings on the relocation and requested updates. Garcia said door-to-door leafletting “would have been a nice thing to do.”
The email about the relocation included an invitation to a May 22 neighborhood meeting to discuss whether to keep the chain link fence that now separates 4400 N. Pearl from the sidewalk and a row of homes across the street, or replace it with options that include a wooden fence or trees. Colorado Village Collaborative also will discuss security plans May 22.
Garcia has attended several neighborhood meetings to express her opposition to the village. She said she would be at the May 22 meeting and would be walking over regularly from her home a block away to keep an eye on the village.
Village resident Wolf did not attend but got reports from three particularly tense neighborhood meetings that preceded the City Council vote. Wolf was at the City and County Building when council gave the go-ahead and she heard Globeville residents repeat their reservations about the village’s relocation then. Wolf said the anger she’s sensed and concern that she might face additional suspicion because she is transgender left her questioning whether she would be safe at 4400 N. Pearl.
“The only way that fear is going to be alleviated is going to the village and hopefully not being attacked by anyone,” Wolf said.
Garcia said: “There’s concern on both sides regarding safety.”
“When any neighbor moves into your neighborhood, you don’t know,” Garcia said. “Some neighbors are good. Some neighbors are not good. It’s just all a wait-and-see.”