Why is Denver moving forward in some small community locations and not others?
DENVER — As the city tries to meet Denver Mayor Mike Johnston’s goal of getting 1,000 people off the streets by the end of the year, some Denver residents continue to fight plans for a small community site in their neighborhood.
Some of the battles were successful, with the city backing down from three of its proposed sites. This leaves Denverites asking the question: Why did the city decide to move forward with some micro-community sites and not others?
Residents of the Overland neighborhood in southwest Denver feel they are fighting a losing battle. They have strongly opposed the city’s plan to build a small community at 2301 S. Santa Fe, just feet from some homes, but the city’s plans are moving forward.
The site will contain 120 dormitories, or tiny homes, to house people experiencing homelessness. Crews have been preparing the ground over the past few weeks.
“There are only 111 residents living in this quarter of Overland, so they will outnumber the current residents here,” said Heather Barnes, who lives in the Overland neighborhood.
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According to Barnes, the neighborhood has had bad experiences when there have been illegal encampments on the site, including thefts and break-ins. Other residents said they found syringes on the sidewalks due to drug use.
Although the mayor and city officials have tried to reassure residents — including noting that the site will be staffed 24 hours, 7 days a week — they worry that the problems they once faced will return. They shared their concerns with the city. But say no one will listen.
“There really wasn’t a lot of compassion or desire to go back to the drawing board to work with this neighborhood,” Barnes said.
The city backed away from its plans to build micro-communities at three other sites, including one near Interstate 25 and Yale. Neighbors there campaigned against the city’s plans and raised money to hire lawyers.
“I think these neighborhoods are more affluent,” Barnes said. I think they were probably a little more organised, had more contacts with lawyers and things like that. We don’t have a lot of those resources here.
In a statement to Denver7, the mayor’s office said wealth played no role in the decision.
“No, the sites were not removed from our list because these neighborhoods are more economically affluent. In fact, although some of the sites have changed, 9 of the sites are in neighborhoods where residents earn above Denver’s median annual household income ” said Jose Salas, Johnston’s deputy director of communications.
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Salas said the decisions to remove the sites on Bannock Street, Birch Street and Yale Street from consideration were “due to a variety of factors that include a range of logistical and operational challenges.”
“This was expected, and we were not deterred by these results,” Salas added.
In a letter to residents who opposed the Yale site, Johnston cited community reaction as one reason the city stopped moving forward with the plan. Salas’ statement did not cite community feedback as a factor when deciding whether to move forward with the site.
Residents are now asking the city to make some changes to the plan, including reducing the number of sleeping units to 60, Barnes said.
“To be beneficial to one group, you can’t make it harmful to another,” Barnes said. “It should be a community decision, not just the city telling people what’s going to happen in their neighborhood. They’re not going to be here to suffer those consequences.”
The mayor’s office did not indicate whether it would consider making changes to the plan.
Barnes and several other Overland residents plan to speak out at Monday night’s City Council meeting and are encouraging council members to oppose the mayor’s emergency declaration.
District 7 City Councilman Flor Alvidres, who oversees the Overland neighborhood, voted against extending the proclamation the last time he appeared before the council.
The city selected the Colorado Village Collaborative (CVC) to operate the site in Santa Fe. They will make sure residents living on site get the services they need to help them get back on their feet.
The City Council’s Housing Committee will consider a $3.8 million contract with CVC on Wednesday.
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