Safe-Camping Site Good-Neighbor Agreement Negotiations Stall in Lincoln Park | Westword

Good-Neighbor Agreement Negotiations Stall Over Lincoln Park Safe-Camping Site

Residents are supposed to move in at the end of the month.
This parking lot in Lincoln Park will soon become a safe-camping site.
This parking lot in Lincoln Park will soon become a safe-camping site. Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
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With would-be residents of a new safe-camping site in Lincoln Park set to move in at the end of the month, negotiations on a good-neighbor agreement between the nonprofit that's setting up the site and the local neighborhood organization have stalled.

"We have got to get something out of this. There is no point in us signing something if there are no negotiations happening. A good-neighbor agreement requires both neighbors to be good and make concessions. If one neighbor stays stubborn and doesn’t negotiate, then we can’t negotiate," says Felix Herzog, a member of the La Alma-Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, which has been negotiating with the Colorado Village Collaborative, the organization that will be running the safe-camping site on a Denver Health-owned parking lot at 780 Elati Street.

Like other safe-camping sites, the Lincoln Park location, which will have room for fifty residents, will offer uniform ice-fishing tents and centralized access to sanitation and services. Additionally, it will be Native-preference, with services that cater to Indigenous individuals, who are significantly overrepresented in Denver's homeless population. Native American groups have been pushing for a Native-preference site since late August, when the City of Denver swept a homeless encampment that had become known as a refuge for Native individuals located outside the Four Winds American Indian Council community center at West Fifth Avenue and Bannock Street.

The main sticking point between the two sides is a request by the neighborhood organization for the CVC to commit to not setting up another safe-camping site within about a quarter-mile radius of the Elati Street site.

"We hadn’t actually put a specific time frame on it," says Herzog. "I think we were hoping for five years. That’s just kind of a hope, so the neighbors can have some breathing space."

But the CVC wasn't willing to agree to this type of restriction, and the nonprofit's executive director, Cole Chandler, says he's "disappointed" that the neighborhood organization has left the negotiating table.

"With this particular good-neighbor agreement, we applied lessons learned from the past to keep the focus of the agreement on the interactions that occur between neighbors outside of our site and the communication channels that we create between parties to the agreement on an ongoing basis," he says. "We are earnest in our desire to answer questions and appease our neighbors’ concerns. However, we are unable to sign a good-neighbor agreement whose scope exceeds a focus on neighborly interactions and communication channels. We remain seated at the negotiations table and welcome the return of La Alma-Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association if they choose to rejoin us here."

When the CVC set up a safe-camping site in the parking lot of the Denver Community Church at East 16th Avenue and Pearl Street back in December 2020, the nonprofit signed a good-neighbor agreement that stated the CVC would not set up another safe-camping site in the nearby vicinity unless agreed to by the signatories of the agreement. That nearby vicinity was fairly large in scope, running from Broadway to York Street and from Sixth Avenue to 23rd Avenue. The signatories included the CVC, the church, three neighborhood organizations and an adjacent property owner.

Stella Yu, another member of the La Alma-Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, says that her group looked to the good-neighbor agreement signed for the Capitol Hill sites when drafting its own proposal. "One of the major issues is that we really want to protect the immediate neighbors. This area is pretty dense in population as compared to other sites," says Yu, who adds that she was ready to settle on just a two-year prohibition of new sites in the immediate area.

But the CVC doesn't have to work on, much less agree to, a good-neighbor agreement, which Herzog recognizes.

"CVC doesn’t have to sign anything. Good neighbor agreements are optional. Effectively, they show that there’s a good-faith effort on both sides and both sides want to make sure the project works," Herzog says. "At this point in time, we are just at the point where whatever is left on the table is just a communications agreement, and that’s something that is effectively required by the zoning."

The Denver Community Church safe-camping site was the CVC's first foray into the model and Denver's second safe-camping site; one several blocks south in Capitol Hill had started up a few weeks earlier. Since then, the CVC has set up safe-camping sites on the campus of Regis University and in a parking lot next to Park Hill United Methodist Church. While the sites in greater Capitol Hill did generate some opposition initially, those opposing voices died down after operations ran smoothly at the sites. Some neighbors of the South Park Hill site, on the other hand, opposed the proposal from the start and even sued to block it from being allowed. A lawsuit related to the site remains pending in Denver District Court.

The CVC will soon set up a safe-camping site on a Denver Human Services parking lot at 3815 Steele Street. This will be the first site on city-owned property, and Denver City Council is required to approve the lease agreement, which it is expected to do in early December. 

By mid-January, the CVC plans to have capacity for 300 individuals experiencing homelessness across its safe-camping sites.

Councilwoman Jamie Torres, whose district includes the Elati Street site, is hopeful that a deal can still be worked out there. "As far as I'm concerned, nothing is final," she says. "I feel like folks' emotions are high, and they both want to get to a good-neighbor agreement. We’re still working on it."

Although negotiations have stalled, Yu, who lives about two blocks away, says that she and other neighbors "would prefer to really be good neighbors to them."

The neighborhood association raised money recently so that it can distribute $60 worth of gift cards to each of the fifty individuals that could be calling the site home in the near future. "We want to welcome them," Yu says. "It's something for the holidays."

"They really do want to embrace this idea," Torres concludes.
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