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Judge Dismisses Legal Challenge to Denver Homeless Encampment


Thursday, May 20, 2021   

DENVER -- A Denver District Court judge dismissed a lawsuit yesterday meant to block efforts to create a legal homeless encampment in Denver's Park Hill neighborhood, but the project could face continued pushback from some residents.

Cole Chandler, executive director of the Colorado Village Collaborative, the group behind the site, sees safe outdoor spaces where residents can wash their hands, access bathrooms, and connect with mental health and other supports as a necessary stopgap measure.

"The pandemic created a significant need, and an opportunity for cities all across the country to respond to this need that's bursting at the seams in new and innovative and creative ways," Chandler contended.

The shortage of affordable housing units has reached seven million nationally, and each night more than 580,000 Americans experience homelessness. In 2020, more people were sleeping outdoors than in shelters for the first time.

Opponents of the Park Hill camp, planned for a church parking lot, claimed the site posed a danger to children, didn't meet city requirements and failed to address the impact it will have on the neighborhood.

Many Denver residents have become uncomfortable with the number of tents popping up in residential areas, but Chandler said sites such as the one planned for Park Hill create a better alternative for those forced to sleep outdoors. The encampments are fenced and staffed 24/7, with a single point of entry where residents must ring a doorbell to be let in.

Chandler pointed to his group's first site on Capitol Hill as proof camps can be safe for residents, staff and the broader community.

"Since we opened our site, we've had no complaints from neighbors, we've had zero calls for police service to our site, and we've had zero increase in criminal activity in the area," Chandler reported.

Chandler hopes to create enough encampments, in every city council district, to bring at least 1,000 people sleeping on the streets into safe outdoor spaces, tiny home villages or other solutions.

Since the first camp opened in December, residents secured more than 180 appointments for medical, mental and dental care, along with employment and housing navigation. Chandler said 12 residents have found jobs, seven have graduated into long-term housing, and five others have secured housing vouchers and are looking for placement.

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