Two Safe Outdoor Spaces in Denver may help those with no homes. But this is a drop in the bucket.

In mid-November, one of my neighbors received an anonymous letter with a headline in big type: “Attention Uptown Denver Property Owner / Occupant: Permanent Homeless Encampment to be Opened December 1, 2020.” 

Well, that opened our eyes, and this letter – which later also was taped on the door of my building – had a lot of information that was incorrect, as we learned later. (Someone took it down quickly.) Still, it took some time to sift out what was real, and now, there are two Safe Outdoor Spaces, one open and the other one is coming along. One sanctioned camp has a regular encampment nearby. Each sanctioned camp is to be open for six months. 

What is different here is that these new camps will be erected on private property; sponsored by churches; organizations involved that have had experience in providing food, sanitary facilities, and people monitoring the camps, and supported by Registered Neighborhood Organizations. 

The camp in Capitol Hill is in a parking lot next to the First Baptist Church, at East 14th Avenue at Grant Street; the other camp, in North Capitol Hill (or what some call Uptown), is going to be in a parking lot across the street of the Denver Community Church, at East 16th Avenue and Pearl Street. It’s about six blocks from where I live. 

Since Denver’s mayor has not had much involvement finding a place to create a safe camp, these organizations took the problem into their own hands. But because the two camps will hold under 100 people, when Denver has hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people with no home, this is an issue.

We’ve heard there will be a third safe camp, but we are not sure where it will be. (When there is no safe place, encampments like the one that surrounded Morey Middle School got out of hand in a hot summer with growing mounds of bikes that were turned into mini-chop shops.)

But what’s it like to be sleeping overnight in the safe camp?  Conor McCormick-Cavanaugh, a writer at Westword, spent the night in one of the camp’s tent. They appear sturdy and like ice fishing tents — not like the ones that were being batted around in the wind yesterday. There is a heating pad on the floor, but this week, days ago after the balmy weather in the 60s, it is humid and snowy and, yes, cold. There was food, and there was a sanitary facility. 

Still, the city needs to figure out the next steps. Since many people in the encampments do not want to go to a shelter, but where can they go? They pop up all over Denver, then they are being swept away. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday, Judge William J. Martinez presided over a hearing in the U.S. District Court of Colorado, which was to be for two days, but will schedule a third day after the first of the year. There was a lot of testimony, and many witnesses, but other witnesses will undoubtedly have more to say. 

In today’s story by McCormick-Cavanaugh, noted: “The evidentiary hearing stemmed from a lawsuit filed in October by Andy McNulty of Killmer, Lane & Newman LLC on behalf of Denver Homeless Out Loud and ten homeless plaintiffs against the City of Denver, the State of Colorado and a contractor that works with the city on homeless encampment sweeps. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises municipalities not to sweep encampments during the pandemic, to avoid furthering the spread of COVID-19; the plaintiffs want Denver to stop the sweeps for the duration of the pandemic.”

Next on 9News interviewed McCormick-Cavanaugh last night by reporter Steve Staeger, and as always that offers more information. 

There are links to the Westword column and to the full interview online. There also are links to information to the sweeps, to the hearings this week, and other information about the Safe Outdoor Spaces that have become part of the neighborhoods. Apparently, the Denver mayor and Colorado governor have not been interested in testifying, but other officials have.

When it was summer, it was hot and smoky; but now it is really cold and dangerous. Now what?

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