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Why is Denver moving forward with some micro-community sites but not others?

Some residents believe affluence played a factor. The mayor's office says that's not the case.
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Posted at 7:06 PM, Nov 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-13 21:06:17-05

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 Denverites continue to fight plans for a micro-community site in their neighborhood.

Some fights have been successful, with the city backing off 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 in the Overland neighborhood in southwest Denver feel they’re fighting a losing battle. They’ve been strongly opposed to the city’s plan to build a micro-community at 2301 S. Santa Fe, just a few yards from some homes, but the city’s plans are moving forward.

The site will feature 120 sleeping units, or tiny homes, to house people experiencing homelessness. Crews have been getting the land ready for the last few weeks.

“Only 111 residents live in this quadrant of Overland, so it would outnumber the existing residents here,” said Heather Barnes, who lives in the Overland neighborhood.

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According to Barnes, the neighborhood had bad experiences when illegal encampments were on the site, including thefts and break-ins. Other residents said they found syringes on the sidewalks from drug use.

Despite the mayor and city officials trying to reassure residents — including noting that the site will be staffed 24 hours, 7 days a week — they worry the problems they experienced before will return. They’ve shared their concerns with the city. but say no one will listen.

“There hasn't really been a lot of empathy or a willingness to go back to the drawing board to work with this neighborhood,” said Barnes.

The city has backed off plans to build micro-communities at three other sites, including one near Interstate 25 and Yale. Neighbors there organized a campaign against the city’s plans and even raised money to hire attorneys.

“I think those are more affluent neighborhoods,” said Barnes. “I think perhaps they were a little bit more organized, had more connections to lawyers and things like that. And we don't have many of those resources here.”

In a statement to Denver7, the mayor’s office said affluence played no role in the decision.

"No, sites were not removed from our list because those neighborhoods are more economically affluent. In fact, although some of the sites have changed, 9 sites are in neighborhoods where residents make above the annual average household income for the City of Denver," said Jose Salas, the deputy director of communications for Johnston.

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Salas said the decisions to remove sites at Bannock Street, Birch Street and Yale Avenue from consideration were "due to a variety of factors that include a combination of logistical and operational challenges."

“This was to be expected, and we are undeterred by these outcomes,” Salas added.

In a letter to the residents who opposed the Yale site, Johnston mentioned community feedback as one of the reasons the city was no longer moving forward with the plan. Salas' statement made no mention of community feedback as a factor when determining whether to move forward with a site.

Barnes said residents are now asking the city to make some changes to the plan, including scaling back the number of sleeping units to 60.

“To benefit one group, you cannot make it detrimental to another group,” said Barnes. “It needs to be a community decision, not the city just telling people what is going to happen in their neighborhood. They are not going to be here for those consequences.”

The mayor’s office did not address 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 Council Member Flor Alvidrez, who oversees the Overland neighborhood, voted against extending the declaration the last time it appeared before the council.

The city has selected Colorado Village Collaborative (CVC) to operate the site on Santa Fe. They will make sure the residents who live at the site receive 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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