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Reader: Everyone Deserves a Chance to Get Back on Their Feet

The new safe-camping site at 16th and Pearl streets.
The new safe-camping site at 16th and Pearl streets.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
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Two safe-camping sites have opened in Denver this month. The first, in the parking lot at the First Baptist Church in Capitol Hill, is reserved for women and trans individuals. The second, at Denver Community Church at 16th and Pearl streets, has room for forty people; it opened on December 16.

Denver service providers began pushing their Safe Outdoor Spaces concept back in April, as homeless encampments started springing up across the city. The idea is to offer tents in protected areas to people experiencing homelessness, while also providing them with sinks, toilets and access to services. During the pandemic, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that municipalities not sweep encampments in order to to avoid spreading COVID, the need has become particularly pressing.

Conor McCormick-Cavanagh has been covering the safe-camping proposal since spring: reporting on Mayor Michael Hancock's initial opposition, then his turnaround in July; following the ups and downs for service providers as neighbors objected to potential sites; sharing passionate commentary from both supporters and proponents. Finally, he decided to experience what he had been writing about, and spent the night at a safe-camping site this week.

His story inspired hundreds of comments on the Westword Facebook page. Says Christine:

This is a good story to keep us informed. Sounds like an adequate encampment for homeless people. How many more people are out there, though, without a roof over their heads? I bet I could check the foyer of my building and find someone sleeping there.

Responds Billy:

I really hope they park one in front of your residence, because it sucks balls unless you like people crapping on your yard. Add some needles in there, and please leave your bike out and windows open.

Comments Neil:

Cool story and all, but that place will be trashed in less than two weeks like downtown and Civic Center Park. Hope there is a bio-filled recycle tub nearby cause them needles will pile up also.

Replies Elle:

Trash and bathrooms! Simple as that. Would love to see how any of our homes would look without those.

Wonders Nick:

When does Cherry Creek get its camp? Central Park? Green Valley Ranch? Signed: residents of central Denver who keep getting shit on.

Answers Jonathan:

There are a few of them incognito, and there are a few out towards DIA, believe it or not.

Notes Meagan:

I’m so annoyed with people that don’t educate themselves on poverty and trauma. Everyone deserves an opportunity to get back on their feet. Proper housing shouldn’t even be a question.

Adds Mark:

I work across from a safe site for the unhoused, and I’m very happy with how they’re conducting this space. This is what the holidays are all about: Giving to the less fortunate. To those of you with ugly and distasteful comments, just remember karma is a bitch. You get what you give....Happy holidays.

But then there's this from Ventus:

One night means nothing.

Rather than occupy one of the forty very in-demand spaces, Conor spent the night the day before the safe-camping site actually opened...and then covered the evidentiary hearing in the class-action suit against the city's sweeps of homeless encampments. In the days since, he's continued his reporting on the homelessness issue, as well as other topics ranging from police reform to the U.S. Space Command.

He also chatted with 9News about his night at the site:

What do you think of the city's new safe-camping sites? What other stories would you like to see Conor cover? Post a comment or email your thoughts to editorial@westword.com.

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