DENVER - Denver City Council is considering spending $8.6 million on a new homeless community center as a step toward cleaning up the downtown area.
A handful of Ballpark neighborhood residents attended Monday night's city council meeting to oppose the plan, bringing a petition signed by more than 300 people.
"It's just a place to hide the homeless, not really provide any additional services," said Scott Bauer, vice president of the Ballpark Neighborhood Association. "I'd rather see $8.6 million spent towards job training, abuse and mental help."
City Council is being asked to approve two contracts for the Lawrence Street Community Center courtyard project; $3.7 million for land acquisition and $4.9 million for construction. The property being acquired is a plumbing and heating warehouse just behind the Denver Rescue Mission on Lawrence between 22nd and Park avenues. Denver Rescue Mission is poised to reimburse the city $2.3 million once the project is complete.
"Is $8.6 million really going to end their homelessness without providing any additional services?" said Bauer.
"This is tax increment financing (TIF) and it doesn’t go for social services, it goes towards bricks and mortar," said Denver City Councilwoman Judy Montero.
Montero is pushing the proposal that stems from a May 2011 northeast downtown neighborhoods plan.
"Courtyard-style buildings provide outdoor space that is defensible because of its limited access from the street, private maintenance and security/surveillance," said the plan.
"Is this a way to hide the homeless?" asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.
"I've heard that before and it's not a way to hide the homeless," said Montero. It's a very compassionate and humanitarian way to be able to give people that live on the streets a sense of dignity. It's a compassionate and safe place for people that live on the street to go."
The community center would be drug and alcohol-free. It would include a dining area, showers, bathrooms, water fountains and it would have surveillance cameras. The plan also calls for a 10-foot wall instead of a 6-foot enclosure.
"One of the reasons that we have a large 10-foot wall around the project -- the courtyard -- is, frankly, for the safety of the homeless," said Brad Meuli, the president and CEO of Denver Rescue Mission. "Drug dealers don't like to come into courtyards with cameras and security people. There are some other courtyards around the country that have low walls where things can be handed over into a courtyard."
A vote on the proposal won't happen until next week.
On Monday night, Mayor Michael Hancock sent a letter to the city council asking for action on the community center, and also warning that he is about to ask the council for more money.
"We can, we must and we will do more to address the unique challenges now being experienced in and around the Ballpark neighborhood. In the coming weeks, my administration will be submitting to City Council a supplemental budget request seeking immediate funding to support an aggressive neighborhood improvement strategy. This will include a significant increase in uniformed police officers in Ballpark, Lower Downtown and on the 16th Street Mall. We also will be asking for funding to improve street lighting, sidewalk and alley power-washing, graffiti removal and large-item pickup in the Ballpark neighborhood," wrote Hancock.
The letter did not disclose how much money Hancock anticipated asking from council members.