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Monday, March 27, 2023

Denver could make temporary homelessness campsites permanent

Denver officials are working to make the temporary, managed campsites that popped up around the city during the pandemic a permanent tool for addressing the homelessness crisis.

The mechanism: a proposed amendment to the city’s zoning code that would bring the campsites, sanctioned overnight parking areas and tiny home villages under the umbrella of a new land use designation known as temporary managed communities.

Safe outdoor spaces, as the clusters of tents that have occupied fenced-in parking lots in neighborhoods from Park Hill to Baker are known, have been part of Denver’s homelessness response since 2020.

They were launched as part of the city’s efforts to mitigate the pandemic. They allowed officials to reduce crowding in traditional, congregate shelters, limit the spread of COVID-19 and prevent more people from setting up their own tents on city streets, said Councilwoman Robin Kniech. Kniech, an at-large member of the council, is working with District 10 Councilman Chris Hinds to co-sponsor the amendment.

The sites are now viewed as a critical piece of the city’s effort to limit illegal camping while working to scale up long-term housing solutions for unhoused Denverites.

“Our homelessness and housing crises continue and we need to sustain these spaces to fill the gap between housing and shelter going forward,” Kniech said.

With on-site bathrooms, trash cans, water, power, food and managers, the sites offer residents more options and safety than sleeping on the streets. The stability and regular access to services like housing counseling and case management at the sites have led to positive results, according to the city’s metrics.

Since the first safe outdoor space opened in late 2020, the camps and their sister concept, safe parking sites for people living out of vehicles, have provided temporary shelter to more than 515 people. Of those, more than 180 moved into a more stable, long-term housing situation, according to the city.

A draft of the new code language was posted to the city’s website Monday. Residents are invited to offer feedback via email ahead of a public hearing before the city’s planning board on April 5. Kniech expects the City Council to vote on — and likely adopt — the code change in June.

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