On November 16, the Denver City Council Finance and Governance committee unanimously approved a lease for a secure campground on city-owned property in the Clayton neighborhood. If the full Denver City Council approves in the coming weeks, service providers could set up Denver’s first secure campground on city-owned property, marking a significant shift from the city’s position in the early days of the pandemic.
“I think this is a good way to help stabilize people and help them get back to work and really help them get their lives back on track,” the councilor said. Debbie Ortega said during the committee meeting.
The lease is for a parking space next to a Denver Human Services building at 3815 Steele Street; it would run for one year with the option of two six-month extensions.
“This is a transformative model,” said alderman Chris Hinds, whose district housed the city’s first two safe campgrounds, which opened last December in church parking lots in the Capitol Hill area. Initially cautiously optimistic about the idea of the sites – which provide centralized access to sanitation and services, while housing individuals in ice fishing tents – but have since become an avid supporter.
There are currently two safe campsites in town — in a parking lot next to the Park Hill United Methodist Church and on the campus of Regis University. A site in a parking lot owned by Denver Health at 780 Elati Street will welcome residents for the first time this week.
The lease at the Park Hill location will soon expire, but Regis has extended its agreement. If the Human Services site receives the approval of the municipality, Colorado Village Collaborative, the nonprofit that operates the sites, expects to serve up to 300 people at secure campgrounds in Denver by early 2022. A team of eight CVD employees runs each location.
So far, the CVC has housed more than 120 homeless people through its secure campgrounds. Seventeen of those people have moved to a long-term residence, and eighteen have started work or have started vocational training. People living at the CVC sites have also participated in more than 350 case management appointments.
The problems were relatively minor. “We’ve had about two police interactions in 12 months,” said CVC director Cole Chandler.
Councilors who have hosted sites in their district see them as positive models. councilor Chris Herndon, whose district includes the Park Hill site, is looking for another site. councilor Amanda Sandoval, which represents Northwest Denver, praises the Regis University site and has supported the lease renewal.
and mayor Michael Hancock, which did not support the safe camping model when it was proposed in April 2020, has now joined it, with his government earmarking $4 million for safe camping in 2022 using federal COVID relief money.
But eighteen months ago, the safe camping model faced major challenges. Attempts to settle city-owned land in the summer of 2020 failed after politicians withdrew their support for the proposals. Service providers then shifted their focus to private property, as the council would not be required to vote on those leases. But the secure camping spots on private property caused consternation among some neighbors; while those in Capitol Hill eventually said the sites were successful, some Park Hill residents have a pending lawsuit related to that safe campground.
With an estimated 1,500 people left homeless in Denver, Chandler says his team could manage as many as 20 locations, if the city wants to.
“The need is definitely there,” Chandler said.