City gives $150K to start Safe Parking program for Denverites living in their vehicles

It’s estimated that over 1,000 people in the Denver metro area are living out of their vehicles.
4 min. read
Dusk falls over the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative’s site at Arvada Covenant Church. Sept. 8, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

For Denverites experiencing homelessness and using their vehicles for housing, more safe parking spaces might be available.

The Colorado Safe Parking Initiative was recently awarded a $150,000 contract from Denver's Department of Housing Stability to administer a Safe Parking program to provide spaces for those living in their vehicles.

With rent prices continuing to skyrocket and housing becoming less available, more Denverites are using their vehicles as an option for temporary housing.

It's estimated that over 1,000 people in the Denver metro area are living out of their vehicles. But there are strict laws on where a vehicle can be parked overnight and what type of vehicle can be left on the street.

A recreational vehicle or camper, for example, can't be parked for more than 24 hours on a "public right-of-way adjacent to any property which has been designated as a residential zone district or which contains a single-unit or multiple-unit dwelling." Basically, when those vehicles aren't parked in residential zones, it's illegal for them (and other cars) to remain in one spot for more than 72 hours.

An RV parked in Cole. Nov. 18, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

"A lot of people will turn to an RV because it does seem like an obviously much more comfortable option than sleeping in a car," Initiative Co-Founder Chelsey Baker-Hauck previously said. "It also seems like it can be a viable and affordable option...but [they aren't] realizing the ultimate toll it's going to take on their lives to try and maintain that vehicle and find a place to park it. The reality is it seems like a great idea but it turns out to be a very unworkable idea."

Laura Dunwoody, the Director of City Services at 311, previously said pocketgov receives about 100 to 130 complaints about homeless encampments every day. Specifically, 311 officials said calls regarding vehicles (both cars and RVs) as encampments have increased over the last few months.

Safe parking sites allow folks to park their vehicles overnight without the worry of being towed or bothered. They have access to water and restrooms. The sites also provide connections to supportive services, including housing, employment development and mental health care.

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

"Safe parking is not intended to be a replacement for a house," Baker-Hauck 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. A lot of the folks we serve are working. They work at low-wage jobs ... places that aren't really paying a wage that allows someone to live, so they are resorting to living in their vehicles."

CSPI started informally in 2019 but was incorporated as a nonprofit in 2020. Their first site opened in Broomfield in March 2020 and has grown to 12 other locations across Arvada, Aurora, Boulder, Golden and Longmont.

In July 2021, the city approved the first permit to allow people living in their cars to park overnight in a designated area. That site, run by CSPI, is in University Hills.

HOST said the contract "utilizes American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds" and will ultimately serve about 60 households through May 31, 2023. It will help fund the existing site in Denver and a second site that hasn't been determined yet.

However, not all CSPI sites accept RVs. Baker-Hauck previously said only the Broomfield locations accept RVs. But HOST is hoping one of the new sites will serve RVs.

"While unsheltered homelessness has risen in Denver, so has our dedication to providing shelter alternatives to assist individuals with achieving greater stability that ultimately leads toward housing," said HOST Executive Director Britta Fisher.

"This is a modest step in the evolution of Denver's support system for our unhoused neighbors."

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