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Residents share concerns about proposed micro-community site in southwest Denver

Some residents of the Overland Park neighborhood fear micro-community for the homeless will lead to more crime and endanger their families
proposed micro community site in southwest denver.jpg
Posted at 6:02 PM, Sep 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-05 20:39:19-04

DENVER — People who live near a proposed micro community site in southwest Denver are speaking out and sharing their concerns. Many of them feel the site will put them and their families in danger. They say they have seen it happen before.

The proposed sites are one part of Denver Mayor Mike Johnston’s ambitious plan to move 1,000 people experiencing homelessness off the streets by the end of the year.

It’s been just under two weeks since Johnston released a preliminary list of sites where he wants to build the micro-communities, which would include Pallet shelters, which are prefab tiny homes that could be assembled in under one hour.

The city council approved the mayor’s request to spend $7 million on the micro-communities. The majority of the cost, $5.1 million, will be spent on purchasing the homes from Pallet. About two million dollars will be used to help get the sites ready.

One site would be built on a strip of land owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) at Santa Fe and Iliff in southwest Denver’s Overland Park neighborhood.

Denver7 spoke with several neighbors on Tuesday and found the reaction to the proposed micro-community was mixed.

“It's very understandable because people's experiences with the homeless have been so mixed,” said Jack Unruh, co-president of the Overland Park Neighborhood Association.

Unruh is someone who’s sympathetic to the plight of people experiencing homelessness. He says during the pandemic, he often carried on conversations with some of them who lived in an encampment in the neighborhood.

“I knew people by name,” said Unruh.

He said he was under no illusions that some of them were probably involved in criminal activity. But he says they never posed a threat to him.

“They didn’t pose a threat to me because I was in conversation with them and acknowledged them,” said Unruh.

He believes the mayor’s plan could work.

"I think many of the neighborhood leaders and community leaders are supporting the general direction that he's taking,” said Unruh.

A narrow alley is all that separates several homes in the neighborhood from the property where the city is proposing to build the micro-community.

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A property owner shared this rendering, purportedly showing the proposed micro community site at Iliff and Santa Fe.

Unlike Unruh, several residents didn't have anything nice to say about the mayor’s plan when Denver7 knocked on their doors Tuesday. Many said they were worried about crime and drug use, which they experienced before when other homeless people lived on the same site.

Many of the residents were too afraid to speak on camera, saying they didn’t want to make a big ruckus. Some say they feared retaliation.

Joy Fagan, who has lived in the neighborhood for three years, is not afraid to speak out.

She said the neighborhood has experienced many problems with homelessness in the past.

“This is the first summer we haven't had about 50 to 75 homeless people living in that area, in that field, and in the cul de sac,” Fagan said. “We had them running down the street, chasing each other with guns. We had a woman lying in the middle of the street at three o'clock in the morning. We had syringes right there where kids were playing, so people quit bringing their kids to the park because of it.”

Fagan believes the micro-community will encourage more of them to move to the neighborhood, leading to more problems.

“That’s just rewarding bad behavior,” said Fagan. “You’re actually enabling them to stay in a dangerous situation for them. It's a lose-lose.”

Robert Lee said he personally hasn’t had an issue, but one of his neighbors told Denver7 that a rock was thrown into his window by a homeless person.

Lee says he wants more information about the proposed micro-community site before rendering a judgment.

“We can't all be for progress but [say] ‘not in my backyard,’” said Lee. “There still has to be some effort from the community, from every community. And I think really we just need more information, more tangible facts to work with and I think that will really help people feel more invested in actually pitching in and helping.”

The mayor's office says the proposed sites were chosen due to their proximity to transit, access to utilities, and distance from schools, among other reasons.

The sites will include a community room, laundry rooms, and restrooms.

People will also be offered services to help them get back on their feet.

The mayor’s office said the tiny homes will begin arriving in November at sites around the city and the first units will be ready for move-in in December.

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