Lakewood considers first safe outdoor parking site, following Denver and other metro cities’ lead

3 min. read
Dusk falls over the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative’s site at Arvada Covenant Church. Sept. 8, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Residents in Lakewood may soon be able to apply for a permit to allow people living in their cars to park overnight on their property. 

On Monday, Lakewood City Council discussed how the city could move forward with an initiative for safe outdoor parking sites, similar to approved initiatives in Denver, Arvada, Aurora, and Golden.

"[Homelessness] is a crisis and it's a growing crisis," said Lakewood City Councilmember Sophia Mayott-Guerrero. "Colfax is at the heart of my district...and in terms of visible homelessness, it's pervasive on Colfax. If you look at how much homelessness has increased in the Denver metro and, specifically, Lakewood over the last couple of years, we really are experiencing an acute crisis and people are looking for innovative solutions. Safe parking came up as one of those solutions."

Mayott-Guerrero represents northeast Lakewood, near Denver's westside. She became interested in the proposed initiative after speaking with one of her constituents, Pastor Ben David Hensley, the lead pastor at Lakewood United Methodist Church.

It's estimated that over 1,000 people in the Denver metro area are living out of their vehicles. But similar to those using tents for shelter, there are strict laws as to where you can park your vehicle.

Hensley approached Mayott-Guerrero, concerned with Lakewood's zoning codes that prohibit people from using their vehicles as dwelling units. If the initiative passes, Hensley's church may host up to four vehicles. 

And if the initiative passes, the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative will run the site. The organization was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2020. Their first site opened in Broomfield in March 2020 and has grown to 10 other locations across Arvada, Aurora, Boulder, Denver, Golden and Longmont.

"Safe parking is not intended to be a replacement for a house," Initiative Co-Founder Chelsey Baker-Hauck previously said. "But folks still need the support and that's what we're trying to do as an initiative, is make it possible for people to survive in the way they have to survive because times are tough."

Council members will decide in the next few weeks how they'll put the initiative into motion, either by completely rewriting the law prohibiting using vehicles as homes or installing a temporary permitting process 

Mayott-Guerrero said as Lakewood and Jefferson County work on new ways to help the unhoused, which includes creating the county's first homeless shelters, the safe parking initiative can be an immediate response to the homelessness crisis in the metro area.

"When you look at how many people are housing burdened, housing insecure or unhoused it's a large percentage of our population. The amount of people who are one to two paychecks away from joining people on the street is high," Mayott-Guerrero said. "Jefferson County has plans for their first couple of shelters over the next couple of years and while those shelters are welcomed and necessary, they do not solve the acute crisis. They do not prevent people from dying in the cold next winter. They don't allow people to have the stability that safe parking does... by allowing individuals to stay in one place... to have consistency. This is just the beginning of the conversation."

Denver approved its safe parking permit program in July. First Universalist Church was the first to apply for the permit and has since renewed it. 

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