Denver considers site for 1st sanctioned homeless encampment

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A homeless man sleeps in the doorway of an empty storefront as residents deal with the spread of coronavirus Saturday, March 21, 2020, in Denver.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

A homeless man sleeps in the doorway of an empty storefront as residents deal with the spread of coronavirus Saturday, March 21, 2020, in Denver.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER (AP) — A Colorado organization dedicated to helping people transition out of homelessness has proposed converting the National Western Complex parking lot into Denver’s first sanctioned homeless encampment, but the plan has generated criticism.

Colorado Village Collaborative Executive Director Cole Chandler said funding is ready, staffing is on the way and the site could open as early as next month, pending City Council approval, The Denver Post reported. The measure could go before the council in a week or two.

Members of a neighborhood development group have argued the encampment poses a potential safety risk for residents nearby, and council members have argued other locations were not adequately considered.

The parking lot meets all the needs to convert it into an encampment, Chandler said, adding that there is enough funding to keep it open for up to six months if it is needed for that long.

The announcement came after Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced last month that the city would open at least one temporary encampment to give people a safe, clean place to take shelter. His announcement was in response to a letter from city council members asking for encampments.

The encampments are expected to allow city officials to break up unsanctioned homeless encampments around town, Hancock said.

“We’re right in the thick of it. We have homeless people roaming around in our alleys, off their meds. We’re picking up a lot of extra trash. Women don’t feel safe. People are worried about their children,” Elyria and Swansea Neighborhood Association President Drew Dutcher said, arguing against the location.

Multiple locations have been proposed, but it doesn’t appear the administration considered all other options, said Lisa Calderon, spokeswoman for Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca. CdeBaca oversees the district where the encampment would be built.

“The fear is that if you just put the site in (CdeBaca’s district), that conversation may just stop there,” Calderon said, adding that an already overburdened neighborhood would be used as an experimental site again.

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