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Denver church could soon be site of safe parking location for homeless car owners

First Universalist Church of Denver
Posted at 10:36 PM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 00:36:36-04

DENVER — An empty church parking lot in southeast Denver could soon become the temporary and safe home for a lucky few.

"We just saw the need and thought, 'We got a back parking lot,' and things went from there," Linda Baggus said.

Baggus is the co-chair of the First Universalist Church of Denver's homelessness task force. The church is located on the corner of East Hampden Avenue and South Ash Street.

Baggus and her staff have been working hard these past few months to turn their back parking lot into a safe space for homeless car owners.

"Two adults per car, but in most of the sites, most people are one person per car," she said.

The program, in collaboration with the Colorado Safe Parking Initiative, would allow eight cars to park at the site from 6 p.m. - 8 a.m. Each passenger will be heavily vetted, and their criminal background will be checked.

"These are people just like us who had some misfortunes and didn't have a backup system and money in the bank to bail them out," Baggus said.

The group would get dinner each night and have access to a portable bathroom, trash cans and hand sanitizing stations. The soon-to-be vegetable garden on the site will also be theirs to enjoy.

"We have put so much time and effort, and the city seems to be pretty positive on this," Baggus said.

But not everyone is on board with the idea. Some neighbors Denver7 spoke with off camera say they don't like that the site is located next to the neighborhood playground or behind their homes.

"You're a homeowner. You have children. You have a right to be fearful about your safety, especially in today's society," CSPI's co-founder Rochelle Brogan said.

She understands the neighbors' concerns, but she feels they come from a lack of education about homelessness.

"They look out for each other, and they're not interested in causing trouble. They're not chronic drug users," Brogan said.

Her organization has helped open safe parking sites in Longmont, Boulder, Arvada, Broomfield and Golden. The need is clearly there.

"We've been getting over five inquiries a day. Five a day," she said.

Brogan says people who are going through rough times just want somewhere safe to park and sleep overnight and avoid getting robbed, ticketed or towed.

"It becomes really problematic, and the people end up falling further and further into homelessness," she said.

Baggus hopes to submit the permit application to the city once the church receives enough feedback from neighbors to make any necessary changes. She believes that may happen mid-June. If approved, the site would open at the beginning of July.

You can read more about the church's plan for the program here.