Photo of tent in SOS mockup

December 2020 Homelessness Update

Safe Outdoor Spaces are open in District 10. What are they actually like?

My office has received more than 1,000 emails about the Safe Outdoor Space (SOS) sites in District 10. To better address your concerns about homelessness, on Dec. 4, I toured the First Baptist Church site, located at 14th and Grant in Capitol Hill.  As a reminder, the pandemic has forced us to get creative with housing solutions. Safe Outdoor Spaces are a temporary solution, but not an ideal one.

I’m excited to share my chat with Kathleen Van Voorhis, Ph.D., Director of Housing Justice at the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, and Kathleen Cronan, Executive Director of Earthlinks Colorado. I’ve paraphrased our conversation addressing your concerns below, and you can re-watch the livestream on Facebook. The situation continues to develop, but this is my most current understanding.

Why District 10 is home to all current SOS sites

The goal is not to draw folks from all around the city into the SOS sites in District 10. Ultimately, both organizations’ goals are to meet unhoused Denverites where they are. Our district is experiencing very high numbers of people living outdoors, so it makes sense that the first locations are in District 10.

Earthlinks and The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado want to help communities offer solutions where people are already experiencing homelessness. Both organizations hope to open at least three more temporary sites beyond District 10. These additional sites are very much still in development. I’ll keep you updated as I get more information.

SOS sites will not increase unsanctioned camping

We all agree that housing and wrap-around services are the best way to end unsanctioned camping. Multiple nonprofits are working toward this goal.

Colorado Village Collaborative is doing outreach at the encampments surrounding the SOS sites to decrease unsanctioned camping. They aim to bring those folks into the SOS site. CVC funnels individuals who can’t or don’t want to participate in the SOS into services and resources that will help them find housing.

The City has also asked Colorado Coalition for the Homeless to build an outreach team solely dedicated to working with residents of large, unsanctioned encampments. You can read more about this effort in Denverite.

Services and facilities offered at the 14th and Grant SOS

What services are SOS residents offered?

Denver Health has told me that they are prioritizing the SOS spaces to launch their mobile primary care van. I’m also working closely with another nonprofit partner that I hope will offer employment services to SOS residents.

How are people supposed to be comfortable in tents during the winter?

The tents installed at the SOS site at First Baptist are Arctic-grade tents. The same kind of tent is used to serve people in Alaska experiencing homelessness. The tents sit on pallets off of the ground; are insulated; and have two heating pads that can safely keep the tents at a comfortable 70 degrees.

Half of the tents at First Baptist have extra construction that makes them wheelchair accessible. The tents are tall enough to stand up in.

How will the SOS be kept sanitary?

Shower and laundry facilities will be on-site every other day to serve residents. There are also portable toilets, including those that are ADA accessible, and hand-washing stations. All the tents also have hand sanitizer in them.

Is there still going to be stuff everywhere?

Residents of the SOS agree to keep all of their belongings inside the tent. Storage bins are provided. All meals are also provided to keep food out of the tents as much possible, keeping the SOS more sanitary and pest-free. Drugs and alcohol are not allowed.

Will our neighborhood be safe?

Two people are on-site 24/7. Staff take shifts so the monitors on-site are always awake and ready to help. Staff is working closely with the Denver Police Department and other city departments to ensure the safety and security of both housed and unhoused neighbors. Remember, safety goes both ways – many of the SOS residents are survivors of domestic violence.

Good Neighbor Agreements will be posted publicly once they are signed by participating organizations.

16th and Pearl SOS site to open Dec. 17

The Denver Community Church (DCC) site at 16th and Pearl, managed by Colorado Village Collaborative (CVC), has received a permit and aims to be open by Dec. 17.

To date, a fence has been installed around the perimeter of the lot; a storage container is on site; and 30 platforms built by Engineers without Borders are in place for cold weather tents. CVC will add individual shelters, warming tents, a privacy netting, bathrooms, trash, and hand-washing stations.

See the facilities for yourself on Sunday, Dec. 13 from 1-3 p.m. Neighbors and community members will be able to tour the SOS before participant intake begins. CVC and DCC would love the opportunity to answer questions and show you the site. Please note you must wear a mask to view the site. All attendees are encouraged to practice social distancing throughout the open house.

SOS contacts and resources

  • In the event of an active crime or fire, please call 911.
  • To report a crime that is not actively occurring, please call 720-913-2000
  • For trash, noise, loitering, or other concerns please contact Cole Chandler at 720-432-8285 or cole@covillageco.org.

Clearing unsanctioned campsites

At the request of the Mayor’s Office, I’ll be referring to sweeps as enforcement actions. I’ve attended a number of the enforcement actions, and most recently appreciated the opportunity to talk with protestors to address their concerns.

Many of you often ask why I don’t put a stop to the enforcement actions. Regardless of how I feel about whether these actions should be taken, I legally cannot stop them.

The current law says that these spaces are illegal, and the executive branch is well within their right to enforce current laws. The Denver Police Department does not report to me, so I cannot tell them to stop the enforcement action.

This issue is indicative of one of the most difficult parts of navigating homelessness. We’re all human, and we have all needed a helping hand from time to time. I don’t want to lose sight of our shared humanity. At the same time, there are lots of people who don’t feel unsafe on their own block.

We need to figure out how to try to thread this needle. I strongly encourage you all to comment on the Department of Housing and Stability’s (HOST) 2021 draft plan. Passing Initiative 2B this November means there will be exponentially more funds available to tackle this issue, and HOST wants to know how they should invest that funding.

More questions?

If you have more questions about homelessness in District 10, I encourage you to reach out to my office. Be the first to get these monthly updates by signing up for our newsletter

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