DENVER — People experiencing homelessness are expected to move into micro-communities later this month as part of Denver Mayor Mike Johnston’s goal to house 1,000 unhoused residents by the end of the year.
The mayor was inspired by something similar that’s been in Denver for a few years now — time home villages.
Dozens of people, including 24-year-old Nukia Holmes, call a tiny home village near 41st and Colorado home. Holmes grew up in foster care.
“I jumped around a lot,” said Holmes. “I am kind of used to jumping around.”
A fight with family members set off an unfortunate series of events for Holmes.
“Things spiraled, and I ended up hospitalized and I ended up on the street,” she said.
Holmes spent nine months wandering from shelter to shelter in Denver. The experience gave her a front-row seat to the human tragedy of homelessness.
“There were a lot of things I hadn't seen. There were people there that needed help, but nobody was willing to help,” said Holmes.
Luckily for her, a case manager helped her apply for a unit at one of Colorado Village Collaborative’s tiny home villages in Denver. She was approved and moved into one of the units this past spring.
“I get my own little place. I ain't gotta worry about nobody. This is nice,” Holmes said. “I was excited.”
The 41st and Colorado location is one of two tiny home villages run by Colorado Village Collaborative in Denver. The other location, which houses women, transgender, and non-binary people, sits next door. The villages are located on a strip of land owned by the City and County of Denver.
Colorado Village Collaborative also runs three Safe Outdoor Spaces.
“We sort of pioneered the model. We've been doing it since 2017,” said Dede de Percin, executive director of Colorado Village Collaborative.
Johnston was inspired by the model and made it a key part of his ambitious House1000 Initiative.
Colorado Village Collaborative was recently selected to run one of Denver’s three new micro-community sites currently under construction. They will operate the micro-community currently under construction near Evans and Santa Fe in southwest Denver.
“Well, realistically, this is our model, right? The micro-communities look like a sort of a mashup between our tiny home village and our Safe Outdoor Spaces,” said de Percin.
Some neighbors living near the micro-community sites raised safety concerns. De Percin is not surprised by that kind of reaction. She said people living near their tiny home villages also expressed similar concerns.
“I think that there are a lot of concerns, but our experience has been, particularly with the regional neighborhood associations, we continue to meet with folks after we move into the site. And often over time, those meetings become less and less frequent and then stop because there are no problems,” said de Percin.
While the tiny home villages don’t have staff on-site 24/7, the city said the micro-communities will.
“I think having staff on-site 24/7, if there ever is a problem, there's immediately somebody you can contact,” said de Percin. “I think over time, the community concerns will be abated. And we intend to do everything we can to have a great working relationship with the neighborhood.”
De Percin said she's not sure when the micro-community will be ready for move-in, but said her organization was told to be ready to take over the site by Dec. 15.
As for the residents, they can expect programming and services similar to what the residents of the tiny home villages receive. De Percin said they focus on helping them set goals to get them back on their feet.
“Generally speaking, we ask people to set goals, to work with our peer support, to work with case managers, and set goals for themselves,” said de Percin. “And really it's about making progress toward those goals. That timeline looks different for everybody, and the activities look different for everybody.
Residents of the tiny home villages are not charged rent but are expected to participate in community life as they work toward their goals.
“That timeline looks different for everybody, and the activities look different for everybody,” said de Percin.
Holmes said she’s made progress in the months she’s lived in the tiny village.
“This place helped me get back into therapy,” said Holmes. “They help me find a primary care physician, which is amazing.”
She said they also helped her decide to go back to school. She’s now one step closer to reaching her goals, which include someday becoming a foster mom so she can help children in the system.
“I know what it's like,” Holmes said. “I want them to understand, like, it's hard, but you'll always have somebody who will support you.”