Sanctioned homeless campsites relocating to South Park Hill, Regis

One of the sanctioned campsites has been in the parking lot next to Denver Community Church in Uptown. (Courtesy of Colorado Village Collaborative)

Denver’s sanctioned homeless campsites will be pulling of the stakes for moves across town.

The two existing “safe outdoor spaces” in Uptown and Cap Hill are set to be dismantled at the end of this month. They will be replaced with new sites in South Park Hill and Regis June 1.

The nonprofit Colorado Village Collaborative, led by Cole Chandler, announced one location in the parking lot of Park Hill United Methodist Church, at 5209 Montview Blvd., in early April.

On Wednesday the nonprofit and Regis University announced plans for one on the campus of the private Catholic University in northwest Denver. It will be located in a parking lot behind the McDonald’s at 5085 N. Federal Blvd., next to a soccer field.

“Ours is a faith that does justice, a faith that calls on us to commit ourselves to combat indifference, walk with the poor and foster dignity among all peoples,” Rev. John P. Fitzgibbons, S.J., the president of Regis, said in a statement.

Both campsites are expected to operate until the end of the year, and Chandler said he hopes the program — initially approved in response to the coronavirus pandemic — will continue in some fashion into 2022.

Last month, CVC said the Park Hill location would have 45 tents, and host a maximum of 50 people. But Chandler said the plan is now to have 33 tents and 40 people max.

In part, Chandler said, that change is in response to feedback from the affluent neighborhood.

“One of the things we’ve heard from community members is that site felt a little large, given the neighborhood context,” Chandler said of the original 45-tent plan.

Additionally, Chandler said, the goal was always to accommodate 100 people between the two sites for this cycle. Once the Regis location was finalized, the nonprofit determined it could shift some tents there, giving that location 56 tents and 60 people max. That allowed the organization to drop the number of tents in Park Hill.

Right now, there are 52 tents total between the two sites in the parking lots of Denver Community Church in Uptown and First Baptist Church of Denver in Cap Hill.

Colorado Village Collaborative’s proposal for managed campsites gained steam when the coronavirus set in. Eight members of the Denver City Council sent Mayor Hancock a letter in April 2020 asking him to authorize them.

Hancock sat on the request for months, then asked the council members in July to recommend sites in their own district. In September, Hancock announced plans to locate a campsite in Five Points, only to say the location was no longer being considered three days later.

The Uptown and Cap Hill campsites didn’t end up opening until December. CVC provides the tents, and the fenced-in locations are staffed 24 hours a day. Portable toilets and hand-washing stations are installed on-site. Drugs and alcohol are not allowed.

Chandler said he’s not trying to add any more campsites before the end of the year, but he does want the program to continue into 2022 and believes city leadership has the appetite for that to happen as well.

Chandler noted that Hancock has personally toured the campsites, and that the council in February approved a contract paying CVC nearly $900,000 to operate two campsites through the end of the year.

Chandler said it’s too early to talk specifics about what the campsite program could look like next year, but thinks there’s a need for more than two locations.

“Unsheltered homelessness is growing in America, and when I look at that, I see a completely solvable problem,” he said.

The locations of the campsites would likely change, at least somewhat.

“The Park Hill lease will not be extended (beyond December),” Chandler said. “The Regis lease does have renewal options.”

In addition to the campsites, CVC also manages small “tiny home communities,” where individuals live in a small structure as opposed to a tent. It opened the first in the summer of 2017, and there are now two — one in Globeville and one in the Cole neighborhood.

Chandler said his organization’s lease with the city for the land where the Globeville location operates runs through April and won’t be extended, so he wants to find an alternative site.

Chandler also said the organization was no longer considering installing a tiny home complex at a site along Sheridan Boulevard, as it originally proposed last year.

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