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Mayor Hancock announces support for Safe Outdoor Space, new funding to address homelessness

Mayor Michael B. Hancock today announced his support for two major proposals to better support and serve people experiencing homelessness – the establishment of temporary, managed campsites and the creation of a new dedicated funding source.

The Colorado Village Collaborative, which operates the Beloved Community tiny home village in Denver, has proposed a Safe Outdoor Space concept to provide emergency support to people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting this week, Mayor Hancock has directed city agencies to focus their efforts on guiding people living in neighborhood encampments scattered throughout downtown to motel rooms, Safe Outdoor Spaces and shelters. Outreach, healthcare and mental-health workers will intensify their visits to encampments, and the city will increase efforts to clean encampments with more frequent trash pickup and used-needle collection. 

“Due to COVID-19, the humanitarian crisis of homelessness is even more dire today than it was just a few short months ago,” Mayor Hancock said. “These are extraordinary times that call for extraordinary measures. By supporting the Colorado Village Collaborative’s proposal to establish temporary, managed campsites, I’m hopeful we can provide a new pathway that leads to more stable housing options for people experiencing homelessness. At the same time, we can also address the public health and safety risks that the growing number of encampments in our city are posing to our neighborhoods.”

The Mayor’s decision comes after weeks of discussions with the Colorado Village Collaborative and review by the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment.

“In moments of great crisis, great societies respond by centering the needs of their most vulnerable citizens,” said Cole Chandler, director of the Colorado Village Collaborative. “Our peer cities across the country have demonstrated that Safe Outdoor Spaces provide a resource rich environment for unhoused neighbors to safely survive the global pandemic while creating longer term links to health care and housing. We are pleased to partner with the City and a long list of community based organizations to bring this safe, dignified, human centered model to Denver.”

Mayor Hancock also announced his support for a possible November ballot measure that would raise an estimated $40 million a year to support services for people experiencing homelessness. Planning for the measure is being led by Councilwoman Robin Kniech, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and several shelter operators and service providers.

If referred to the ballot by City Council this summer and approved by voters in the fall, the measure would increase Denver’s sales tax by .25 percent, or 2.5 cents on a $10 purchase.

The proposal would increase housing options, rental assistance and supportive services. It also would increase and enhance shelter capacity and quality, allowing for 24-hour services, counseling and case management.

“The people of Denver have been passionate about improving our city's response to homelessness, and I'm grateful for the community-council-mayoral partnership that will help us deliver on that shared goal,” Councilwoman Kniech said. “Safe Outdoor Space will help us reduce harm and risk to folks falling through the cracks today, and, with the support of voters in November, a sales tax measure will expand pathways into housing, shelter services and innovative interventions in 2021 and beyond.”

Supporting temporary, managed campsites during the pandemic, and endorsing a proposed tax increase, are not positions the Mayor takes lightly. “But as our community overwhelmingly agreed last year during the debate over Initiative 300, we can do better,” the Mayor said. “Supporting these proposals is a step in the right direction.”  

Mayor Hancock’s support for the ballot measure and Safe Outdoor Space proposals builds on the city’s efforts to increase services for people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city has spent more than $24 million in emergency COVID response funding for people experiencing homelessness.

Those funds have helped cover costs to stand up two large 24-hour shelters, secure more than 700 motel rooms for vulnerable populations and those suffering from the coronavirus, deliver more hand-washing stations and publicly accessible toilets, and provide testing and screening services.