By Makenzie O'Keefe

DENVER (CBS4)– Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced two proposals Wednesday morning to support those experiencing homelessness in the city. The proposal includes the establishment of a temporary, managed campsite.

“COVID-19 has impacted every one of us but especially those experiencing homelessness,” said Hancock.

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The location of the first site for a sanctioned campsite for the homeless has not been disclosed. It will provide nearly 50 homeless individuals with showers, laundry, hand washing stations and access to essential mental health and substance resources.

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“I want to be clear: these are temporary,” said Hancock of the managed campsites. “We still believe that getting people indoors and connected to services is the best way to ensure long term stability for those experiencing homelessness in our city. These managed sites will allow people who are currently living in outdoor encampments and neighborhoods to route to relocate to safer, more suitable locations where services will be provided. This is an emergency step that is necessary because of the ongoing COVID pandemic.”

“We will be providing clean tents clean cots, clean sleeping bags, they’ll be able to have their own 12 x 12 area,” said Dr. Kathleen Van Voorhis, a spokeswoman for Interfaith Alliance of Colorado.

Agencies involved said the CDC has encouraged homeless sweeps to be put on hold during COVID-19. However the growing camps pose both health and safety threats to those living in them and around them.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding encampments with those experiencing homelessness, most recently the camp in front of Morey Middle School at 13th and Clarkson in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.

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Residents complain the encampment is blocking the right-of-way on the sidewalk and also worry about health concerns with human waste, trash and possibly drug paraphernalia. Those working with the homeless complain the city hasn’t done enough to help that segment of the population.

“We all acknowledge that we must, and we need to do more. And as we’ve stood up these options and resources we’ve also seen more vulnerable people coming to Denver, that has led to increased number of unsanctioned campsites throughout the City of Denver, the number of encampments and the public health and safety risks to people living in these encampments and to the neighborhoods, has reached a tipping point,” said Hancock.

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During a news conference last week, a group stormed the building where Mayor Hancock was discussing the latest on coronavirus and chanted “Stop the sweeps.” They believe the city hasn’t done enough with protecting homeless during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Hancock addressed those concerns on Wednesday, detailing the efforts that Denver has taken to help those in need since the pandemic hit Colorado in March.

“Denver has taken significant steps to serve and support people experiencing homelessness. We’ve spent $24 million in emergency funds so that have helped cover the costs to stand up to 24-hour shelters, secure more than 700 hotel rooms, deliver more hand washing stations and publicly accessible toilets and provide testing and screening for our neighbors experiencing homelessness,” said Hancock.

“There has been a need for 30 years the need is increasing exponentially,” explained Van Voorhis with the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado. “We’re looking at a 45% increase in homeless because of COVID so we know we have individuals in our community who need help and we want to support that.”

The location of the first site for a sanctioned campsite for the homeless has not been disclosed, but Van Voorhis says they have received full funding from foundations and donors to secure the site and necessary items.

Agencies involved said the CDC has encouraged homeless sweeps to be put on hold during COVID-19. However, the growing camps pose both health and safety threats to those living in them and around them.

“The time is right to look at some harm reduction strategies as a temporary measure to manage this pandemic,” explains Bob McDonald with Denver’s Department of Public Health and Environment.

McDonald said not only have teams been monitoring COVID cases among the homeless population but they’re seeing an outbreak of Hepatitis A and a possible bacterial outbreak as well.

Hancock said the city will continue outreach and enforcement of the urban camping ban, while trying to encourage those seeking shelter to use motel rooms or the sanctioned camp sites once they are open.

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The other proposal Hancock discussed is a ballot measure to raise an estimated $40 million a year for homeless support services.

Makenzie O'Keefe