Another “safe outdoor space” is slated to open at W. 8th Avenue and Elati Street on Nov. 10 in a partnership between the Denver Village Collaborative and Denver Health. According to the city’s press release, the 12,500-square-foot gravel lot will offer a 24-hour, staffed and secure shelter for up to 50 people for about one year.
The city first began funding safe outdoor spaces in February of this year, as the effects of COVID-19 settled more heavily on shelters and service providers. The program’s first two campsites were met with general optimism and eventually won over skeptical neighbors. The announcement of this third space coincides with the extension of the safe outdoor space at Regis University’s Northwest campus until March 2022.
What sets this newest site apart is its origin and purpose: According to the city, 9 percent of those experiencing homelessness in Denver are Native American, despite making up less than 2 percent of the city’s population. The new site will work in partnership with organizations like Four Winds Indian Council, Spirit of the Sun and Lakota Way Healing Center to more directly help the Native population.
The space is also the proposed solution to another encampment that sprung up, and still operates, at the Four Winds American Indian Council, eventually dubbed the Denver Indigenous Refugee Camp.
“Safe outdoor spaces have generally been very successful when they’ve been located in places where people experiencing unsheltered homelessness are already located and already camping,” Cole Chandler, the executive director of the Denver Village Collaborative, said. “There’s been a number of people that are camped and nearby blocks and so we’ll be able to at this location reach directly out to those individuals, many of whom happen to be Native American.”
The Four Winds building only blocks away has been maintaining their small encampment by offering things like water and garbage disposal to individuals at the site. The encampment faced multiple sweeps during the summer, according to Denver Homeless Out Loud data. One sweep on Aug. 31 drew some protesters.
“How can the city come in and clear that area when the adjacent property owner is okay with having the people there and is still providing a maintenance?” Ana Cornelius, an organizer for DHOL who was present at multiple Four Winds sweeps, said. This new safe open space, only blocks away, is an attempt to bring services to these individuals in way that doesn’t violate the city’s Urban Camping Ban.
“None of this would have happened without the grassroots leadership of unhoused Native people who started the Denver Indigenous Refugee Camp outside of Four Winds American Indian Council and decided to organize and advocate for a new Safe Outdoor Space,” said Mateo Parsons, the board chair of Four Winds American Indian Council.
Cornelis said that those currently living at the encampment would likely move to the newest safe outdoor space a few blocks away, but only “if their needs are accommodated.”
Four Winds is still seeking legal action against the city for a sweep on Aug. 31, demanding the city stop interfering with what they called a clean, orderly encampment coexisting peacefully with the community.