By Lauren DiSpirito
DENVER (CBS4)– At a makeshift camp located at Delgany and Denargo Streets in downtown Denver, the region’s latest snowstorm and sub-freezing temperatures amount to perilous conditions for the people living there.
Tents, that sometimes house up to as many as 75 people, line a narrow stretch between the road and chain-link fence.
Despite the dangerous cold, when city staff and outreach groups approached Richard Kjellesvig, who has been living in the camp for three weeks, on Wednesday, he turned down their offer to provide him with a ride to a local shelter.
“I don’t deal with the shelters,” Kjellesvig said, explaining that he would rather stay at the camp than enter a shelter.
He’s run into trouble at a shelter before, he says, and doesn’t feel safe. “I don’t like going to the shelters because of all the drama that’s in them and the fighting.”
Kjellesvig is not alone. When he and more than two dozen other people refused the offer Wednesday night, representatives from Denver Human Services, the Salvation Army, St. Francis Center, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and Denver police returned to the camp with a different approach on Thursday, this time, offering vouchers for motel rooms.
Chris Conner, Program Administrator for Denver’s Road Home, a part of Denver Human Services, said he wanted to be sure every effort was made to get people out of the cold.
“It’s very rare, it’s in certain circumstances where its unequivocally a lifesaving effort, we don’t want people out here dying on the street for the sake of them not desiring to go into shelter,” said Conner.
Conner said there is more than enough room to house those left on the street, “It’s not because the shelters are full we have room at our overflow shelters and our women’s shelter downtown last night only reported 50 percent capacity.”
The voucher costs the City of Denver about $70 a night. Homeless advocates and administrators say they’re working on solutions to problems that keep people away from shelters but say on a night when the temperatures dip way below zero, what matters most is getting people out of the cold.
“I think it’s an effort of working with our partners to see what we can do to re-vision and redesign shelters to mitigate some of those reasons,” said Conner.
In the end, five people declined, but many more, 21, accepted. They took along some of their belongings to spend the next few nights indoors.