On Friday, June 2, Mayor Hancock accepted an invitation to visit a tiny home village that's being constructed at 38th and Walnut streets, in RiNo. During his visit, which was closed to the media, the Mayor donned a construction hat and engaged in candid conversations with villagers who voiced concerns about Denver's treatment of the homeless.
Fourteen villagers will be allowed to live in eleven tiny homes at the site for at least six months (the length of the village's pilot program). But many of the soon-to-be residents told the mayor about the struggles others in the homeless community continue to face, including the ongoing enforcement of the urban-camping ban and adverse conditions in homeless shelters.
The meeting was notable because individuals experiencing homelessness and their advocates have not always had success getting an audience with the mayor, as was the experience of the group Denver Homeless Out Loud when it repeatedly requested meetings with the mayor for months following the March 2016 sweeps in the Ballpark neighborhood. Hancock did not personally meet with the group until this year.
Some details about last week's private meeting between the mayor and the villagers were posted Friday on the Facebook page of the Colorado Village Collaborative, which is organizing the tiny-home village project with the permission of the city's Department of Planning and Zoning. The post reads:
Do you know this man? Yep, it's the Mayor of Denver. When his office asked if Mayor Hancock could come volunteer at Beloved Community Village, the villagers discussed it and decided that he could come on the terms that no external media was present due to the historical harm of the Mayor's office against the homeless community. Today the Mayor came out for that visit. We are grateful that the Mayor's support helped to create room in the Denver Zoning Code for the Beloved Community Village to be built on a temporary basis and we were pleased to see the Mayor sit down with the villagers and listen to their experiences and requests.
As villagers shared their stories with the Mayor, they were able to communicate the pain that many of them have experienced even this very week as they have been swept from their camps and moved along in the middle of the night after long days working to build the Beloved Community Village. When asked what the Mayor's office could do to help with this initiative, the villagers expressed that they would like to see a category in the Denver Zoning Code for permanent tiny home villages, and they would like to find ways to take this village off grid with solar energy. We are hopeful that the Mayor's office will continue to work alongside of us as we seek to make both of those things a reality.
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Additional commentary was provided on Facebook by the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, which is a member of the ASAP advocacy group and also has a hand in the tiny-home project:
Few things are more beautiful and vital in this work than when marginalized people gain a platform to speak truth to power.
That happened today when Denver's Mayor Hancock agreed to come without press to visit the tiny home village and listen to the villagers. They expressed the suffering of being swept repeatedly in recent years, spoke with dignity about their worth as human beings, and made clear requests.
We are so grateful to be part of this and so proud of our friends!
Westword reached out to the Mayor's Office about the meeting, and received this statement from deputy communications director Jenna Espinoza: "It was a great opportunity to listen and learn from the future tenants as part of our ongoing dialogue, and to share ideas on where we find some common ground — like the the tiny home village, the repurposed Commission on Homelessness, and storage options — to move forward on housing, health and job opportunities for people experiencing homelessness"
According to Terese Howard of Denver Homeless Out Loud, villagers at the tiny-home village may issue their own statement later this week about their takeaways from the meeting with the mayor. The village's governing system requires a supermajority (two-thirds) consensus among villagers around things like issuing statements to the press.