Denver OKs the city’s first safe parking space for people living in their cars

The First Universalist Church parking lot will allow up to eight cars.

The parking lot at First Universalist Church in the University Hills neighborhood. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

The parking lot at First Universalist Church in the University Hills neighborhood. (Esteban L. Hernandez/Denverite)

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

For the first time, Denver has approved a permit to allow people living in their cars to park overnight in a designated area.

The city’s planning office confirmed it issued a temporary zoning permit on July 9 to let First Universalist Church establish a safe outdoor space for up to eight cars in a limited area in the church’s parking lot. The church is located at the intersection of South Colorado Boulevard and East Hampden Avenue in the city’s University Hills neighborhood.

“We try to live by our seven principles and our covenant, which starts, ‘Love is the spirit of this church and service is its law,'” said Linda Baggus, co-chair of the church’s homelessness task force, in a statement to Denverite.

The permit will let people park their cars from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. It will allow up to 16 people to stay there overnight. Chelsey Baker-Hauck, the co-founder of Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, the organization that will run the program, said she expects people will start using the site next week. Guests will be allowed to stay as long as they need to, she said, and additional services will be offered to them at the site.

“The goal is that guests can get into stable housing or reach whatever goals they set for themselves, whether that’s employment, stabilizing their lives, and sometimes that can happen quickly and sometimes that can take a while,” Baker-Hauck said.

The organization runs 10 other similar safe parking sites in the metro area, and includes sites in Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield and Jefferson counties. Baker-Hauck said the organization started informally in 2019 before it was formally incorporated as a nonprofit last year. It opened its first safe outdoor parking site in Broomfield in March 2020. She estimates there are at least 1,000 people living in their cars in the metro area — a number she expects to rise after the national eviction moratorium ends this month.

However, Baker-Hauck emphasized people will need to apply on their website before they can park overnight. The site will not allow people to simply stay and park there unless they are permitted to stay there.

The permit for the church will expire Jan. 15, 2022, according to the city’s planning office. City planning spokesperson Laura Swartz said in an email the site is the first safe outdoor space to allow for people to stay in their cars. Four other safe outdoor sites have been permitted in the city for people experiencing homelessness.

Camping sites at Regis University and at Park Hill United Methodist Church are currently operating in Denver.

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