DENVER — There's no hard data yet, but we don't really need numbers to know record unemployment and stalled economies are not great for people experiencing homelessness. The pandemic has forced some shelters to close, services to scale back and churches offering food to temporarily stop.
“The number of people who are in need of housing and services continues to grow the more they remain unemployed,” said Dr. Kathleen Van Voorhis, Congregation Land Campaign Manager for The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, adding that she’s hearing from many people new to camping on the street. “A portion of them used to rent a motel room. They could no longer pay that wage so they ended up on the street.”
Interfaith Alliance is working with the Colorado Village Collaborative and non-profit architecture group Radian to find an empty lot, either on public land with the help of the city or on private land with the help of partners. It would eventually be a campsite for 50 to 100 people experiencing homelessness.
This would be a supervised, temporary, “Safe Outdoor Space” where people would get access to a tent, a bathroom, and it would be screened regularly for COVID-19 symptoms. Ultimately, Van Voorhis hopes caseworkers can help connect them with services, including more permanent, stable housing.
“We will screen them. We will see if they are exhibiting any symptoms. If they are, we will refer them out to hotels, motels and healthcare already in place,” said Van Voorhis of the protocol that would be in place. “Bringing them into one area not only allows us to protect them during this public health crisis but allows us to provide outreach and case management.”
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The groups behind the idea have asked the City of Denver for assistance in finding land and funding. That help is likely not coming. The city did not provide an interview on the topic but said “our focus right now is on indoor solutions,” when asked about whether it supported such an initiative.
The city says its temporary shelters at National Western and the Denver Coliseum offer more than 1,000 beds. As of Sunday night, 332 beds were still available. The reason behind those vacancies hasn't been changed by the pandemic.
“Couples cannot go in. Individuals with pets. Individuals also don't necessarily want to leave their belongings. Some individuals struggle with the idea of being kept inside,” said Van Voorhis.
If they have to, Van Voorhis says the groups will move forward with private partners, possibly on private land, operating until things stabilize.
She did not provide specific locations that the Interfaith Alliance is considering. She wants to see the campsite up and running by the end of May or early June.
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