By Andrea Flores

DENVER (CBS4)– Denver’s first sanctioned campsite for those experiencing homeless is officially up and running at First Baptist Church of Denver. The site opens to 30 unhoused women and transgender people on Tuesday.

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“We began construction on platforms last Saturday, and have been working 12-hour days until right now,” said Interfaith Alliance of Colorado Director of Housing Justice, Dr. Kathleen Van Voorhis. “Economic downturn, continued evictions, and the loss of seasonal jobs has really forced a lot more people out onto the street. COVID really exacerbated an issue that was already there.”

EarthLinks, a Denver nonprofit, will staff the site 24 hours a day. There will be two staff members on site at all times. There are 22 state-of-the-art ice tents, similar to ones used by homeless communities in Alaska, that will keep residents insulated. The tents will be fully equipped with cots, heating mats, sleeping bags, and even electricity. There will also be on-site showers and laundry services for residents.

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“We’ll be doing temperature checks on the way in and out and asking the normal questions about any kind of symptoms people might be experiencing,” said Kathleen Cronan, Executive Director of EarthLinks. “We have three porta potties on site, we have hand sanitizer, we have handwashing sinks, and we’ll be enforcing all of the COVID responsibilities.”

EarthLinks organizers say alcohol and drugs are not allowed on site. If a resident leaves the safe outdoor space and doesn’t come back for 72 hours, and does not communicate with a staff member, the tent will be cleared out and given to the next person in line.

With the first safe outdoor space now a reality, organizers hope to recreate the concept in other parts of the city.

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“We do hope that models such as this offer solutions so we can make connections with individuals and help uplift them out of poverty, so that we can start to move people off the streets and into housing, into jobs, and really provide them with the services they need,” Van Voorhis said.

A permit for a second Safe Outdoor Space at nearby Denver Community Church has been approved. The Colorado Village Collaborative will operate that site. Organizers hope to have the site up and running in less than two weeks.

Andrea Flores