With its budget cut, the future of Denver’s safe parking sites is unclear

The nonprofit was supposed to expand from two to four sites in Denver.
4 min. read
Dusk falls over the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative’s site at Arvada Covenant Church. Sept. 8, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

A planned expansion of Denver’s safe parking sites, which gives people living in their cars a secure spot to park overnight and other support, was canceled after the City Council cut funding for the program and shortened its contract to the end of 2024. 

Originally, the contract — which would have expanded the number of sites from two to four lots — was planned to run through 2025. But as Mayor Mike Johnston has focused on getting people living in street encampments indoors, he has cut funding for safe parking sites that serve people experiencing homelessness inside their cars. City Council passed the amended contract Monday.

As a result of the funding cuts, the nonprofit that manages the sites, Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, had to eliminate a part-time position and stop plans to open two new sites. It also eliminated funding it gave directly to help people living in their cars, which included money for vehicle registration, insurance and emergency hotel rooms.

“We had been working with one service provider who had community meetings and applied for a permit and then all of a sudden the rug got pulled out from under all of us,” she said.

Terrell Curtis, spokesperson safe parking nonprofit, acknowledged it had trouble making timely reimbursement requests from the city when the program started. Curtis said the city cut its funding shortly after the nonprofit brought all its payments up to date. 

“We just were a really young organization and just got in a little over our head at first, so that was incredibly frustrating that by the time they told us this, everything was in line,” she said.

Jose Salas, spokesperson for the Mayor's office, said the cut $400,000 will go toward other city homelessness programs, though he did not go into specifics.

"Throughout our contract period with the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, there have been challenges with spending and reporting," Salas said. "This contract is funded with American Rescue Plan Act dollars, and thus we have been keeping a close eye on spending to ensure timely expenditure of funds in accordance with federal requirements."

The safe parking sites began under former Mayor Michael Hancock, and Curtis said she was disappointed the Johnson administration did not see as much value in the partnership. 

“We didn't sign a contract in good faith with an administration, we signed it with the city of Denver,” Curtis said.

Denverite has reached out to the Mayor’s office for comment.

The safe parking organization is working to find private funding sources to operate in Denver long term, but the future remains unclear. 

The nonprofit operates 13 lots across the Denver Metro. The expansion program is off the table for now and Curtis said the future of the two existing Denver safe parking lots relies on new outside funding sources. Curtis said the original 2025 contract gave the nonprofit a long enough runway to seek out more private funding long-term, but the organization is now racing to make sure the two existing Denver sites can stay open past 2024.

Salas said the city is is committed to the program, despite the funding cuts.

"We are currently working on a contract amendment with the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative in order to continue these services while using our limited resources in the most effective way for the thousands of Denverites facing homelessness," he said.

Curtis said demand for the sites is high — the nonprofit can only accept about 10 percent of the requests it gets for parking spots.

“We have some new funding opportunities that are coming up, we're pursuing all avenues to make sure that you can keep those lots open,” Curtis said. “There are hundreds of people in their vehicles who don't have a safe and legal and sanitary place to be overnight.”

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from the Mayor's office.

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