Denver gives nearly a million dollars to temporary sanctioned campsites for people experiencing homelessness

It’s the first time the city is giving the “safe outdoor spaces,” as they’re known, money directly.

An incoming safe outdoor camping site at Denver Community Church in North Capitol Hill. Dec. 11, 2020.

An incoming safe outdoor camping site at Denver Community Church in North Capitol Hill. Dec. 11, 2020.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

The city will partially fund two temporary sanctioned campsites for people experiencing homelessness.

The contract between the Colorado Village Collaborative and the city will provide $899,569 for two sites for the rest of the year. Denver City Council members voted 10-1 for the contract Tuesday night.

Councilmember Amanda Sawyer said she voted against the contract in part because she didn’t think it was a responsible way to spend tax dollars. She said supporting sanctioned camping contradicts a decision by voters to keep the urban camping ban in place in 2019.

Councilmember Robin Kniech said she supported the contract, calling it a more “humane, harm-reduction solution” for people who are unhoused. She said she’s heard from residents who think these sites are a good idea.

The money will pay for an existing sanctioned campsite — or safe outdoor space, as they’re known — that the Collaborative opened at the Denver Community Church at 1595 Pearl St. in Cap Hill last year, and another site whose location is yet to be determined. The other existing campsite in Denver is located at First Baptist Church of Denver, at 1373 Grant St. in Cap Hill, and is operated by the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado.

Denver Department of Housing Stability spokesperson Derek Woodbury said in an email it’s the first city contract with a safe outdoor space provider. Previously, the city provided resources such as fencing, portable toilets and hand-washing stations at the two existing campsites.

About $650,000 for sanctioned camping sites was approved as part of a $2.6 million emergency coronavirus package in October, according to city documents, though a specific recipient wasn’t named.

The safe outdoor spaces were created to address homelessness during the winter months and the pandemic.

Denver’s Chief Housing Officer Britta Fisher said the sites connect people experiencing homelessness to other services, including helping people find more permanent housing, providing dental cleanings, and getting folks connected to mental health resources.

Chandler said the city’s money amounts to 86 percent of the budget for the two campsites. Fisher said private donors also chipped in to cover costs. The money approved on Tuesday will help pay for operations at the two sites, as well as employee pay and things like portable toilets.

The second Collaborative-run site will be managed with help from the St. Francis Center, which provides services to people experiencing homelessness.

The Pearl Street campsite has the capacity to serve 40 people, Chandler said. Thirty six people were living there as of Monday. Five residents of the site were relocated to a tiny home village last week, he said.

Chandler said the Collaborative will be looking for a new location for the Pearl Street campsite once its lease ends at the end of May.

The Grant Street campsite opened in early December. It can accommodate up to 30 women and transgender individuals.

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