A week after expressing support for establishing temporary safe camping sites in Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock is throwing the ball back in the court of Denver City Council, asking members to choose potential locations for these encampments within their own districts.
"Nobody knows your Council district better than you. Therefore, I request that each of you who recently sent me a letter in support of the Safe Outdoor Space concept identify at least one potential site in your district to support a temporary COVID-based campsite," Hancock wrote in a letter dated today, July 8. "Ideally, we are looking for properties in the 10,000 square-foot range – enough for 60 people, 50 socially distant tents, restroom and shower facilities, and a common area. The campsite would be operational as long as public health orders and the pandemic are in place."
The mayor is requesting that the eight councilmembers who lobbied him back in late April to support the initiative — Amanda Sandoval, Jamie Torres, Paul Kashmann, Candi CdeBaca, Chris Hinds, Stacie Gilmore, Debbie Ortega and Robin Kniech — send their suggestions by July 17.
The letter was a smart move. Although a recent survey showed widespread support for the establishment of such sites during the COVID-19 pandemic, some Denver residents will almost certainly oppose having a site near their own homes. By placing the responsibility on Denver City Council members to select possible sites, Hancock could distance himself from potential criticism — or at least let councilmembers share the pain.
When first asked about the proposal in late April, Hancock — who'd pushed for the urban camping ban back in 2012, during his first term as mayor — expressed total opposition, saying that his focus was on getting people indoors.
But encampments around Denver have grown in both size and number in recent months. Although large temporary shelters at the National Western Center and the Denver Coliseum have been catering to hundreds of homeless individuals each night, many more continue to stay outdoors.
Finally, Hancock got behind the safe-camping site concept last week. “Due to COVID-19, the humanitarian crisis of homelessness is even more dire today than it was just a few short months ago. These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures," he said in a statement issued July 1.
The Colorado Village Collaborative, which built Denver's first tiny home village, and the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado are spearheading the establishment of up to three fifty-person camping sites in the city.
"We are pleased to partner with the City and a long list of community-based organizations to bring this safe, dignified, human centered model to Denver," Cole Chandler, director of the Colorado Village Collaborative, said in that same statement.
At a July 1 press conference, Hancock said that as the safe camping sites are opened, the city will start clearing out encampments that have developed around Morey Middle School, in Lincoln Park, and throughout the Ballpark neighborhood.
"We’re going to intensify our outreach and engagement of all of these sites going forward," he said, "and we have to, because it’s an unsafe situation for everyone."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.