DENVER — Residents of a wealthy suburb are questioning their progressive ideals and contribution to helping alleviate social ills as a result of a decision to support homeless people during the pandemic by allowing them to set up a Homeless camp in church parking lot.
Unsheltered residents were being shut out of Covid-19 prevention programmes, according to advocates, so they devised a scheme to provide healthy open areas where homeless people could get food, medical treatment, and other resources.
Many locals of the neighbourhood felt uneasy when Pastor Nathan Adams of Park Hill United Methodist Church declared on Easter Sunday that the church would bring faith into motion and set up a tent on-site for around 40 unsheltered people for six months.
Jon Kinning, who lives a block away from the church, said, “It wasn’t that there was a homeless encampment one block from my front door when I bought in Park Hill.” “I would live in downtown Denver if I had to be surrounded by homelessness every day, have people sleep on my patio or use my garage as a bathroom.”
Park Hill, located about 4 1/2 miles from downtown, is a charming neighbourhood of flowering trees, stately brick houses, and cosy bungalows. In the mostly white community around the church, Black Lives Matter posters adorn front lawns, and about 67 % of Park Hill residents voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 election.
Stephen Booth-Nadav, who has lived across the street from the church for 20 years, said, “It’s a neighbourhood where kids are used to being fairly free.” “In the summer, kids are out on the highway, in the parking lot, walking up and down the streets with their dogs.”
When church members contacted the Colorado Village Collaborative about turning the parking lot into a secure outdoor venue, Adams and many of the 400 people on the educational call were enthusiastic. Two such camps had already opened without incident near the state Capitol downtown in December.
Adams recently said, “We see this as an extension of the work that God is calling us to do, which is to love our neighbours, particularly our most needy neighbours.” “Those who are facing homelessness in this situation.”
Despite the call to protest, five Park Hill residents filed a lawsuit in Denver District Court earlier this month to halt the encampment and obtain a provisional restraining order to prohibit the initiative from proceeding.
According to the complaint, the plan “pose[s] a real danger to minors and school-aged children,” ignores the neighbourhood’s influence, and displaces residents from one section of the city “with available services” to an environment “unequipped to accommodate” the safe-camping location.
The case was dismissed by the court on Wednesday, and after obtaining a city permit, the Colorado Village Collaborative plans to open the camp on June 14.
More people are sleeping outdoors rather than in emergency shelters, according to Cole Chandler, executive director of the collaborative, which has built tiny home communities for homeless people in Denver. This is to avoid attracting Covid-19, to have more privacy, and to avoid becoming crime suspects in the cramped spaces.
Chandler recently said, “We’re seeing some of the highest levels of homelessness since the Great Depression.” “There are still insufficient places for people to go.” We need more strategies like this that aim to minimise pain, alleviate pressures on nearby communities, and, most critically, offer resources and long-term housing links to people living on the streets.”
The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative performed a point-in-time survey in January 2020 and discovered 4,171 individuals living on the streets in the city and county. Every night, city shelters can only accommodate around half of that number. The results of this year’s survey are yet to be published, but analysts predict that the number will rise.
Innovations like the parking lot encampment, according to Daniel Brisson, executive director of the University of Denver’s Center for Housing and Homelessness Research, are critical to alleviating the problem.
“The new sheltering infrastructure just does not have enough beds to satisfy all of the demands, so we need different options for different individuals facing homelessness,” he added.
However, Ariella Nadav, Booth-18-year-old Nadav’s daughter, said she is concerned about her safety when she returns home late at night from work and has to park on the lane.
“I don’t want to come home every night this summer and be terrified for my safety, and not only my life, but my well-being,” she said. “I don’t want to have to deal with sexual harassment on a daily basis.”
According to Cole, no criminal or sexual predators are permitted in the camps. However, the community contains addicts who have lived on the streets for years.
“We don’t exclude people who have been homeless for a long time.” “Right now, approximately 40% of the users on our platform are newly homeless, and 60% are permanently homeless,” he said. “At the venue, we don’t authorise medications or chemicals.” However, this is a harm-reduction strategy. And we do have people in this culture who are addicted to something.”
A drug deal could be seen across the street near an empty diner on a recent tour of one of the collaborative’s camps downtown.
Cole was taking Park Hill residents around to assuage their fears of what a tent in their area would look like. The encampment was kept private by colourful outdoor walls, and bright red tents with electrical control for fans and heat were neatly lined up in orderly rows. Nearby, there were portable showers and toilets, as well as hand-washing stations and garbage cans.
The grounds were kept tidy, and security guards and volunteers were on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No one in the Capitol Hill camp has tested positive for Covid-19, and 32 of the 36 people have been vaccinated, according to Cole.
Within a tent that sold drinks and snacks, Mark Montes, aka “Shorty,” was helping himself to coffee.
“I was on the streets for 11 years,” he said. “If it weren’t for them, I’d still already be drinking on the street and unable to find work.”
“I’m homosexual, and my family is against it,” Max said, noting that he feels much better in the tent than in a shelter or on the streets. “Being jolted awake by a policeman or being hit in the head by a cop is not the safest thing.”
“I’ve seen on Facebook that some of my neighbours five blocks away are ecstatic that this is coming to Park Hill,” he said. “I’m saying that if I were five blocks away, I’d say the same thing. Is my five-block-away neighbour getting what I’m doing when I say my daughter is scared to park her car and come inside?”
“To claim it shouldn’t be me’ pushes it on the poorest, most deprived neighbourhoods of our community,” he said. “So I’d like to ask someone in the world who thinks, ‘My neighbourhood isn’t the best spot for this,’ to reconsider: Whose neighbourhood is it?”