Robert Vasquez had been homeless for about a year before he was accepted as a resident of the Beloved Community Village at 4400 Pearl Street, Denver's lone tiny home village.
"At the moment, I feel safe," the 33-year-old Vasquez says now that he finally has a roof over his head at the facility, which serves as a bridge between homelessness and long-term housing.
Vasquez moved into the Beloved Community Village at the beginning of the year. He's part of the latest crop of village residents, who were able to move in after eight tiny homes were added to the complex. Those homes, which bring the total number of units at the village to 19 and its capacity to 25 residents, are being unveiled today, February 25, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at noon.
The Colorado Village Collaborative, the organization behind the village, will also show off the new community building, which has both a kitchen and an eating area. "[Residents] are always cooking, making dinners in the common area," Vasquez says. "It's nice to have people to hang out with."
The new common area also has three bathrooms with showers. Prior to those additions, residents had been using porta-potties and showers connected to water tanks.
The Beloved Community Village came into existence following years of advocacy fueled by the city's urban camping ban, which Denver City Council enacted in 2012. "That's the struggle that this village was born out of," explains Cole Chandler, head of the Colorado Village Collaborative. The ordinance prohibits unhoused individuals from using tents or sleeping bags on public land to shelter themselves from the elements.
In July 2017, five years after the ordinance banning urban camping was approved, residents began living in the Beloved Community Village at its original location in RiNo.
In May 2019, the village moved to its current location in Globeville, amid vocal opposition from some neighbors, who felt that the city had been using the area for years as a dumping ground for projects that other neighborhoods had rejected.
That opposition appears to have lessened since the move, according to Chandler. "There used to be signs that said, 'No tiny homes in Globeville' at two properties across the street. Those have come down," Chandler told Westword in December.
That month, a Denver County judge found the urban camping ban unconstitutional; the City of Denver has appealed his decision.
Before that ruling comes down, more tiny home villages could be coming to Denver. An ordinance approved by Denver City Council in October changed the city's zoning and building codes to allow for such facilities. Prior to that, the Beloved Community Village had to apply for a number of zoning variances before it was allowed to open.
Under the new zoning regulations, tiny home villages can be built and used for up to 180 days, with a chance for a one-year renewal, or up to two years, with a chance for a two-year renewal. The two-year permits require fixed bathrooms, like the new ones at Beloved. After a maximum of four years, a tiny home village must move; it can't return to the same property for another four years.
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The new regulations also allowed for such villages in more spots around Denver, including residential areas, as long as they're built on a site that already houses a public building, such as a church or a community center.
The Colorado Village Collaborative is currently working on a tiny home village for women experiencing homelessness that will be located on a Denver church property. Tiny home villages next to churches can have up to thirty units, each of which can house two individuals.
The regulations passed in October require that village developers reach out to a site's neighbors and neighborhood organizations, and work collaboratively to craft safety regulations, the resident application process, and a method for resolving any disputes that might arise in a village.
Denver's Department of Community Planning and Development is working on another zoning-code update that would permit permanent tiny home villages. This update is one piece of the city's larger effort to alter the zoning code to make space for more group-living situations.