By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4)– A plan to turn church parking lots into sanctioned camps for those experiencing homelessness in Denver is in its final stages. Hundreds of residents in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood joined an online meeting to voice their concerns over the plan.

(credit: CBS)

The Interfaith Alliance plans to turn a parking lot at 16th and Pearl and another at 14th and Grant into what’s being called “Safe Outdoor Spaces.”

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Dr. Kathleen Van Voohris who heads the program for the Interfaith Alliance says the locations will offer services.

“There are bathrooms, laundries, showers, three meals a day we’re bringing in outreach workers, case management workers, mental health workers,” said Van Voohris.

She says they will also have doctors and dentists, along with workforce training.

But under the banner of “Fight for Capitol Hill,” residents like Mickey Mann are objecting over concern for property values and other reasons such as safety.

“When the tent campers come, the drug dealers and every other kind of criminal comes along with them,” she told CBS4’s Rick Sallinger.

(credit: CBS)

This program will temporarily house a total of about 70 people at the two sites, by invitation only.

Van Voohris tried to dispel fears that the program will bring more people without homes into the area.

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“It’s not a first-come, first-serve model. It’s a referral-based model program. The other models across the state and nation, because it’s a referral model, they have not seen an increase around there,” she said.

Mann says they would go along the plan if the mayor and police chief make a promise about the other tents not in the program.

“If they would clean out the tent camps and enforce the laws in the area, I would say bring on the supervised… right? That would be wonderful.”

(credit: CBS)

The two sites are located in Denver City Councilman Chris Hine’s District 10. He said they are not a good solution, but the best solution available at the moment. He cited the increase in the homeless population during COVID-19 and the resulting economic crisis.

The permit for the site on private property at 1345 N Grant has been issued. The request for the other location was just received by the City of Denver.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s office issued a statement that his office “…remains committed to the Safe Outdoor Space concept as an emergency response to support those experiencing homelessness during this ongoing pandemic. Community outreach and engagement with neighbors is a priority for the mayor for any potential location for one of these sites.”

If all goes according to the Interfaith Alliance plan, they will begin putting up arctic-type tents in those lots in early December.

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Rick Sallinger