DENVER — Denver Mayor Mike Johnston wants to house 1,000 people living on the streets of Denver by the end of the year. One way he plans to accomplish that is with micro-communities spaced throughout the city.
The goal of the communities is to give people a space to live until they find permanent housing. However, one of the proposed locations has neighbors and business owners concerned.
5500 E. Yale Avenue is one of the spaces being considered by the city for a micro-community. A micro-community uses pallet shelters or tiny homes and gives residents access to mental health and substance use resources, along with career support.
"Micro-communities are land parcels about a half-acre or more that can house between 40 to 100 residents in pallet shelters or tiny homes," reads a Frequently Asked Questions page from the city. "Each resident will have a private space with a bed and desk where they can rest and store their belongings. In addition, each micro-community will have community spaces which include restrooms, showers, a kitchen, and gathering spaces."
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5500 E. Yale Avenue is in the southeastern part of Denver and is near the Arapahoe County line. Janet Cornell, Tom Maloney and Tyler Burgett all live near the proposed site, but their homes are in Arapahoe County.
“We're not the ones that voted for the mayor, and we don't feel like we have a say," Cornell said. “We understand we need to solve this problem, we do. This is just not the right location.”
Their concerns range from jurisdictional issues to the safety of pedestrians on Yale Avenue, the emergency services in the area, and the proximity to school bus stops.
“In this neighborhood, there's a disconnect between who's supposed to respond for the 911 [calls]. Is it Denver? Is it Arapahoe County? Is it the sheriff? So, I don't think these people will be properly cared for here," Cornell said. “It's not safe for our community. It's not safe for the people that will be here.”
The three have other ideas for sites that could support the micro-community and are still close.
“There are two open lots pretty close by that don't back up right next to a community, and there's space available that would still have access to the services nearby but not have as many jurisdictional questions," said Burgett. “There's just a lot of questions in terms of their implementation, how they're actually going to help the people, and what's going to make this different from just changing someone from living in a tent to living in a different structure.”
DJ McDermott and his husband own Timothy D's Salon, which has operated out of the building at 5500 E. Yale Avenue for more than a decade.
“This is what supports me and my family," McDermott said. “I don't want to sound like an ogre, but this is my livelihood that's being uprooted.”
McDermott claims he learned the location was being considered for a micro-community site on August 26. If the proposal were to become a reality, he said the business would have to be out of the building by December.
"This is just too much, too fast," McDermott said. “You don't sweep productive businesses just to solve a problem."
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At one of his town halls on Tuesday, Johnston said they do not have a site plan yet. The mayor said they are considering building the micro-community in the parking lot and not inside the building.
“There are people in the room that have alternate proposals for ideas. We're always open to that, too," Johnston told the crowd. “We have heard some of the concerns about the traffic of the corridor. I think we're looking at a smaller number, like somewhere around 100 units, not 200. So that will be a smaller site... You want some traffic, so there's public transit, but you also want some safety. You don't want people crossing high volume roadways and getting exposed to injury.”
According to the mayor's office, the proposed locations were identified based on the following criteria:
- Proximity to transit
- Access to utilities (electricity, water)
- Meets basic zoning and permitting criteria
- Meets basic environmental criteria
- Distance from schools
- Equitable distribution of sites across the city
The list of sites is expected to change as new locations are discovered. The places that are eventually selected will be staffed around the clock, and will have a zero-tolerance policy for violence. There will not be a sobriety requirement.
The first pallet homes are anticipated to arrive in November, with the first tiny homes coming in December.