Denver mayor asks for City Council’s help to identify sanctioned camp sites for people experiencing homelessness

The ball is now in their court to come up with space.

Authorities tell residents of an encampment near the intersection of California and 21st Streets that they must move or else go to jail. May 27, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Authorities tell residents of an encampment near the intersection of California and 21st Streets that they must move or else go to jail. May 27, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mayor Michael Hancock has asked eight city council members who support sanctioned camping to recommend sites in their districts for the camps.

In the letter sent Wednesday to the eight local lawmakers who wrote him in April endorsing a proposal for temporary, serviced and secure tent camps for people experiencing homelessness, the mayor said two or three 50-tent camps would be managed by Colorado Village Collaborative, a nonprofit. He said other decisions regarding the camps, including whether to grant any zoning changes that might be necessary, might have to be approved by City Council and that he had no formal process for choosing sites.

“This is why I am writing to you today,” Hancock wrote. “Nobody knows your council district better than you. Therefore, I request that each of you … identify at least one potential site in your district to support a temporary COVID-based temporary campsite.”

He said a site should be about 10,000 square feet, which he said was large enough for 60 people and the 50 tents set up in compliance with social distance guidelines, restrooms shower facilities and common area they would need. He said the camp would be in place “as long as public health orders and the pandemic are in place.”

The eight council members were Candi CdeBaca, Stacie Gilmore, Chris Hinds, Paul Kashmann, Robin Kniech, Debbie Ortega, Amanda Sandoval and Jamie Torres.

Hancock had announced last week that he was reluctantly supporting such camps where people experiencing homelessness can shelter amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He reiterated his reluctance in his letter to the council members, saying he continued “to believe that indoor solutions provide the best opportunity for housing stability.”

But he added that “COVID-19 has placed additional challenges in the way of addressing the needs of people experiencing homelessness.”

No date has been set for opening the first camp.

Hinds said he had been considering the question of a site for a sanctioned camp in his District 10 even before receiving the mayor’s letter. Hinds said he had identified a privately owned plot, but could not give details because he had not yet been able to contact the owner.

Hinds said his district lacks much public space that would be suitable for a sanctioned camp. Placing a camp in Cheesman Park or Civic Center, for example, would decrease what Hinds feels is already too little green space in his district. It also would likely be opposed by some residents, he said.

Several large, unsanctioned camps have drawn attention in Hinds’s district in recent weeks. Wednesday evening, Hinds held a two-hour long Zoom town hall about one of the unsanctioned camps, around Morey Middle School. Hinds said it was clear during that session and in communications he has had from constituents that “people are afraid of people living in tents.”

Homelessness “is the No. 1 issue that people reach out to me about,” Hinds said. “The issue should be how are we going to make sure that the people who need homes have homes and wrap-around services.”

After receiving Hancock’s letter requesting help designating a site for sanctioned camping, CdeBaca posted a Facebook appeal to residents of her District 9 asking for recommendations on a site.

Torres said in an interview she hoped any difficulties finding a site, including possible opposition from residents near any designated location, would not stall the project.

“Those of us who supported it (the sanctioned camping proposal) need to step into this space and try to figure out how to champion it,” she said.

Torres said the city has tried to support businesses impacted by COVID-19.

“Why wouldn’t we also do that for a humanitarian need?” she said.

Torres said she did not immediately have any sites in mind in her District 3. Neither did Paul Kashman, who represents District 6. But Kashman said in an email that he thought large event sites such as the Coliseum, Pepsi Center, Mile High Stadium and National Western that have large, seldom-used parking lots might be contenders.

“I think finding safe spaces for unsheltered residents benefits all of us,” Kashman said. “I’ll want to hear more about what the mayor envisions. As we found with siting tiny homes, it’s a challenging discussion.

Last spring City Council voted 13-0 to lease city-owned land in Globeville where Colorado Village Collaborative, which will manage the sanctioned camping, moved a tiny home village that houses people without homes. Some in Globeville had tried to stop the move, with opponents expressing contempt for people experiencing

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