Denver’s first legal homeless encampments only a first step, experts say

While Denver officials watch to make sure the city’s first two sanctioned homeless encampments help people off the streets, advocates for the homeless say they expect more on the horizon.

Certainly, the need is there for the encampments, also called safe open spaces, they say.

“We need to get these up and going and see some early signs of success from them,” said Cole Chandler, executive director of the Colorado Village Collaborative. “But I expect that we will be able to turn out an additional safe open space or two by early next year.”

The two encampments have space for about 70 people, but that’s a drop in the bucket when compared to the approximately 1,000 people sleeping on Denver’s streets each night, said Cathy Alderman, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

With another site or two, however, that number could nearly double to about 130 beds, Chandler said.

“To create 13% capacity that didn’t exist before… that’s not nothing,” Chandler said.

At the same time, Chandler said his organization is working on adding additional tiny homes and other options that could complement or coincide with the encampments.

City officials and partners say they’ll watch to make sure the first two sites give people a modicum of stability while they use services — like substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling and more — and seek more stable housing. But at the same time, Alderman said they should keep looking for additional sites that could serve for more encampments.

“Don’t stop and wait for the data, do it at the same time,” Alderman said. “We need to move the process along at all levels.”

But that process has proved to be challenging. City and privately owned sites proposed for the first two encampments faced substantial — and sometimes high-profile — opposition. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock first floated the idea of the encampments, stressing their temporary nature, in July, but due to that pushback — and what some described as a lack of political will — months passed before the first two were able to open.

Britta Fisher, Denver’s chief housing officer, said her department is evaluating a request for proposals that could provide services for the city’s first two encampments and possibly others.

Nothing is stopping another organization from proposing a third encampment, Fisher said. If they can track down a workable property and the cash, the option is there. But the trouble is finding the wraparound services that could be offered at those encampments, she said.

“There are only so many resources,” Fisher said

Source: Read Full Article