DENVER — Every city in Colorado has its own approach to getting more people off of the streets and into permanent housing.
Back in 2020, the City of Denver placed sanctioned campsites across the city to help people on the streets during the pandemic. On Monday, Denver City Council agreed to provide the group behind those sites, Colorado Village Collaborative, an additional $3.9 million to support hundreds of people through the end of the year. The funding is through the American Rescue Plan Act, the city said.
According to the city, the additional funding will provide outdoor accommodation for 310 households, made up of roughly 370 individuals. Last year, the program helped transition 47 people into more stable housing, the city stated. The city's goal for 2022 is to help 90 people transition into more stable housing.
However, many of those who live near the sites are blaming the city for making their streets less safe. At 8th Avenue and Elati, for example, neighbors have documented countless incidents in the past three months or so, including drug use and violence.
Many, like Davida Gonzales say they feel like prisoners in their own homes.
“I don’t even like to go outside unless someone is out there with me,” she said.
Her home sits less than 10 feet from the sanctioned homeless encampment.
Homeless individuals living here believe it is safe.
"There's nobody that can get in here without permission," said Melissa Ironshield, who is homeless.
Advocates believe this encampment and others are a step in the right direction.
“I really support this low barrier approach," said Cuica Montoya with Colorado Village Collaborative. “It’s an alternative for folks that sleep outside to have another option."
Neighbors like Emily Ostrander say these safe spaces aren't as safe as advertised, nor are the practices of CVC.
“Their operational policies, we don't feel are enough to really protect our neighborhood," she said.
Security videos and cell phone videos of the encampment at 8th and Elati show ongoing issues. One security video shows a guy wandering the allies screaming profanities at 4 a.m. in early January.
"He was screaming and yelling racial slurs," Ostrander said.
Another video shows two men in a verbal and physical altercation that went on for several minutes. It ended with one man being expelled from the shelter.
“That just means he gets expelled onto our street," Ostrander said. “We know you don't have to go through rigorous background checks or drug offender screening."
Gonzales has lived here for decades and says she’s never felt more unsafe in her life.
“There’s some days I don't even come out of the house," she said.
Gonzales says she keeps her blinds closed on the north side of her home as long as she can stand it.
“But I don't want to go into depression either," she said.
Organizers and homeless advocates say these tents are safe and warm.
“They’re designed for ice fishing," Montoya said. “Bathrooms, showers, laundry, you know, things that keep can keep them safe."
“We’ve got heaters, little radios, lights and stuff - everything going on in the inside," Ironshield said.
“The site is secured by a fence that is a coded gate entry,” Montoya said. “So, for the safety of the residents and the safety of the neighborhood."
But clearly, that doesn't quite work to protect those outside the fence.
Ostrander says there are better options.
"The encampment near Regis (University) is in the middle of an empty parking lot,” she said. “Hundreds of feet away from homes. To us - that makes a bit more sense."
In a press release, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock called the additional funding "critical."
“Safe Outdoor Spaces play an important role in fostering stability among individuals facing homelessness by connecting them to supports and services,” he said. “As our pandemic recovery moves forward, this investment is critical in helping our unhoused neighbors regain stability in a safe, managed and supportive environment.”
Dozens of residents in Denver’s Lincoln Park neighborhood have filed an appeal with the City of Denver to have the encampment removed.