DENVER — Starting this week, Denver's first Safe Outdoor Space will welcome its first residents who are experiencing homelessness.
Safe Outdoor Spaces, or SOS sites, are temporary, managed campsites approved by the city that serve people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.
A second SOS operated by Colorado Village Collaborative is set to open at Denver Community Church’s Uptown campus at 1595 Pearl St. later this month. It will house men, women, couples and pets and will have a capacity of 40.
The first one, located in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church at 1373 Grant St. in Capitol Hill, was identified shortly after Denver City Council passed a temporary change to existing zoning codes that made the church property a viable option.
Over the last few weeks, crews have been setting up tents, sinks and portable bathrooms in the lot.
The tents are equipped with electricity and are insulated so that a temperature of 70 degrees can be maintained. "Showers For All" is providing a truck that will alternate between the sites to provide showering and laundry services.
"First Baptist Church has a long legacy of partnering with our unhoused neighbors, and we are proud to be part of this new initiative to address the growing homelessness crisis in our city,” said Rev. Dr. Brian Henderson, Minister at First Baptist Church.
“As people of faith, we believe that we are called to serve the poor and vulnerable among us. In the midst of this public health crisis, the Safe Outdoor Space is an important step in the right direction for our neighborhood and our city."
The sanctioned space will house up to 30 women and trans-identifying individuals. It's temporary and set to wind down operations in late May.
"People can stay the whole six months, but the goal is connecting them to resources," said Dr. Kathleen Van Voorhis with the Interfaith Alliance. "We don't want people to go back out on the street. We want them to have a stabilized outcome. It's hard for outreach workers to maintain contact with transients; this will help them maintain contact."
EarthLinks Inc., a Denver-based nonprofit focused on the unhoused, is tasked with staffing and day-to-day operations. They'll have it fully staffed at all times, and providers will connect residents with an array of services that will include daily COVID-19 testing.
“The Safe Outdoor Space fully aligns with EarthLinks' mission to cultivate transformation and self-worth with people experiencing homelessness and poverty,” said Kathleen Cronan, EarthLinks’ executive director. “Beyond providing a safe place for women and transgender individuals to shelter outdoors amidst a pandemic, the SOS will connect the unhoused with vital services that will place them on a path to becoming housed."
No alcohol or drugs are allowed on site and those who leave and don't return or communicate with staff for 72 hours will have their tent cleaned and given to someone else in need, according to Cronan.
To make donations for the safe outdoor space, call Dianne Flahive at 303-832-4188. Earth Link is asking donations not be dropped off in person at the site.
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