Denver’s first sanctioned, serviced campsites will open in the parking lots of two Capitol Hill churches early next month and shut down six months later. The campsites are a temporary measure to ensure that people experiencing homelessness can stay healthy during a coronavirus surge and warm during the winter, organizers said during an online community forum Thursday night.
Judging from chat comments and questions during the two-hour session Thursday night, a number of Capitol Hill residents thought the forum was called to determine whether the plans would go forward as envisioned by hosts First Baptist Church and Denver Community Church and the nonprofits set to run the sites, also known as safe outdoor spaces. Two previous proposals for sites that would have been elsewhere in Denver were withdrawn after neighbors expressed opposition similar to that found in comments posted during Thursday’s forum.
Cole Chandler, whose Colorado Village Collaborative is set to manage the camp proposed on the parking lot of Denver Community Church’s Uptown location at 1595 Pearl Street, said the forum was held to ensure neighbors knew the camps would soon open and so that they could contribute to an agreement to guide the relationship between people who will live in the camps and people with houses, apartments and businesses in Capitol Hill.
“We’re moving forward, and we hope we can move forward in a spirit of unity,” Chandler said in an interview Friday.
The camps will be fenced off and staffed all day and night, and people living in them will be provided with tents, places to store belongings, bathrooms and showers as well as mental health counseling and other support to help them move toward stable housing. To stay in the camps, people will have to adhere to such rules as no trespassing on other property in the neighborhood.
The rules will include “no violence, no weapons, no substances,” said Cuica Montoya, the Colorado Village Collaborative staff member who will be in charge of the Community Church camp.
Montoya added during the forum that the Community Church camp will have 30 tents and First Baptist 22. A maximum of 40 people will be accommodated at the Community Church lot and 30 at First Baptist. First Baptist will be for women and transgender people and Community Church for single men and women, couples, people with pets and LGBTQ individuals. People will be discouraged from unsanctioned camping nearby, Chandler said.
Chandler said an operations plan addressed concerns raised during the forum about such issues as how long the camps would be in place and how safety, security and cleanliness would be maintained. Chandler said a good-neighbor agreement would be drafted to which people could refer when they had questions about, for example, whom to contact with complaints.
Justin Joseph, a realtor who lives in Capitol Hill, was unpersuaded by what he heard during Thursday’s forum.
He posted his email address among the chat comments, asking neighbors who wanted to try to stop the camps to contact him. He had 50 responses by Friday morning, he said in an interview. Joseph said he was looking into asking a court to prevent the camps from being established on the grounds that they will make Cap Hill less safe and property in the neighborhood less valuable.
“I’m OK with doing one” sanctioned camp in Cap Hill, Joseph said. “But they need to put one somewhere else so that it’s not a Capitol Hill issue.”
Joseph said the safe outdoor spaces at First Baptist Church and Denver Community Church would create the impression that Cap Hill was a neighborhood of camps for people experiencing homelessness, which would make it less desirable for people looking for homes. Joseph acknowledged that Cap Hill has unsanctioned encampments but said that was different because unsanctioned camping can be found anywhere in the city.
Proponents of sanctioned camping who live in Cap Hill also say safe outdoor spaces are different from unsanctioned camping.
“I don’t like the mess. I don’t like the tents all over the place. I don’t like the trash,” said Judy Trompeter, president of the Uptown on the Hill neighborhood organization, describing unsanctioned camping.
Trompeter appeared as a panelist during Thursday’s forum. Her neighborhood group along with Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods, Inc., a larger neighborhood group, say bringing sanctioned camping to the area will give people experiencing homelessness a place to keep clean, stay healthy and get support to move on to stable housing.
During the forum, Chandler of the Colorado Village Collaborative said people now living on the streets in Cap Hill would be among those invited to live in a “managed site inside of a parking lot inside of a fence.”
Some of the residents who listened to the presentations Thursday night were supportive and expressed thanks to the church leaders and offered help to the nonprofits. In one post, Tess Dougherty said: “We have to take a risk here, and I am so proud to be part of an initiative that could serve as a model for other neighborhoods to hopefully open up additional sites, moving some of the burden from Capitol Hill and Curtis Park.”
A second forum is planned Saturday. Chandler said monthly community meetings will be held once the camps are open.