Blair-Caldwell plaza no longer under consideration for Denver’s first sanctioned camp for people experiencing homelessness

“We are taking this option off the table,” said Mayor Hancock.

Mayor Michael Hancock gives a COVID-19 update in the City and County Building's Parr-Widener Room. May 5, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mayor Michael Hancock gives a COVID-19 update in the City and County Building's Parr-Widener Room. May 5, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Bryson. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A plaza outside the Five Points library branch is no longer under consideration as a site for Denver’s first sanctioned, serviced camp for people experiencing homelessness.

In a statement on his Facebook page late Tuesday, Hancock said that “after further investigation into suitability, we are taking this option off the table. There are potentially better sites, with fewer legal and practical obstacles” than the library site that he said was not far from where he grew up.

Hancock had posted on Facebook over the weekend about the possibility of locating a sanctioned camp, also known as a safe outdoor space, in the plaza where unauthorized camping already is taking place west of the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library. The possibility had drawn criticism from individuals and groups such as the Five Points Points Business Improvement District.

In a statement, the business group said Five Points was “already shouldering the majority of the homelessness and affordable housing crisis in Denver,” pointing to numerous shelters in the neighborhood. The business group added it had other plans for the plaza, named for Charles R. Cousins, an African-American business leader linked to the period when Five Points was a thriving center of Black culture and entrepreneurship.

“We are working on a vision for activations that would honor Cousins’ memory and further uplift this community, but will be unable to do so if it becomes a sanctioned camp,” the Five Points Business Improvement District said.

It was the second time a site has been publicly proposed for sanctioned camping and then withdrawn following opposition from neighbors. The first proposed site was in the parking lot at the Coliseum.

Both the library plaza and the Coliseum parking lot are in District 9, which is represented by City Councilwoman Candi Cdebaca, who supports sanctioned camping as a way to support people experiencing homelessness and has been working with constituents to identify a site. Lisa Calderón, Cdebaca’s chief of staff, said Tuesday that while no site had been finalized, the library proposal had grown out of a grassroots effort that she accused the mayor of derailing by first announcing the possibility too soon, then reversing course.

Calderón said CdeBaca planned a community meeting Wednesday to try to determine a way forward.

In his statement on Tuesday, Hancock said: “I encourage all of us to take some time to reflect on the difficulties of finding a suitable location for a use such as this. The need to serve our neighbors experiencing homelessness remains one of the most significant challenges we face today, and solutions will require broad understanding and collaboration.”

Hancock had long opposed sanctioned camping, saying people experiencing homelessness should at least be sheltered inside as his administration worked to build more affordable housing. But in July, he said he had changed his mind because of the pandemic, which has put pressure on the city’s indoor shelters.

Colorado Village Collaborative, the nonprofit that manages a tiny home village for people experiencing homelessness in Denver, will be the main manager of the sanctioned camp once what is expected to be the first of several sites is chose. The sanctioned camps are to be temporary and staffed 24 hours a day. They are to have bathrooms, showers, security and support services.

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