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Residents Fired Up About Proposed Safe Homeless Camp Space At Denver Coliseum

DENVER (CBS4) - Neighbors in the Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea neighborhoods, or the GES, are upset about a proposal to make the Denver Coliseum parking lot a designated homeless camping space - dubbed a "Safe Outdoor Space." It's just one more thing for the residents, who say the existing homeless shelters set up at the Coliseum and the Education Hall of the National Western Complex are causing a lot of problems in their community.

(credit: CBS)

"When is it going to stop? When can we have a normal life?" Sandra Ruiz Parilla, a resident of the GES for four years, asked.

Ruiz Parilla says residents have been living in fear since the mass homeless shelters opened up at the start of the pandemic. She says neighbors have seen human excrement in their home alleys, witnessed people shooting up at their bus stops, and have been harassed.

"They will just go by and say, oh Mexican, wetbacks, go back to your country, speak English," Ruiz Parilla said. "It's embarrassing, because I have a daughter, and she has to walk with me, and she says, 'Mom do you hear what he said?'"

Organizers of the proposal with the Colorado Village Collaborative, the organization that would manage the homeless camp, says this is the top contender for the first of three sites in the city to become a safe space for the homeless to camp.

"We are focused on getting the first site up and running as quickly as possible - the leading site under consideration is in the Denver Coliseum parking lot," said Ann Cecchine-Williams with the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment in a written statement to CBS4. "Any additional possible sites will be considered and reviewed in the coming days and weeks by the City and the Colorado Village Collaborative."

The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment says among homeless camps already in place, there's outbreaks of Hepatitis A and a bacterial infection that causes severe digestive issues, known as Shigellosis.

(credit: CBS)

"The Denver Department of Public Health & Environment will monitor conditions in the Safe Outdoor Spaces as we have with the Tiny Village sites around Denver," Cecchine-Williams said. "With COVID-19 complicating matters, we have a responsibility to balance the risk considerations for those living outdoors with the risk of spreading the virus, per the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control."

But neighbors say it's just one more thing on top of the pollution, and lack of sidewalks and access to healthy food, among other issues, the GES faces.

"The city doesn't care about us, the state doesn't care about us, and this has been happening for years," Ruiz Parilla said.

While the residents say they're not against the homeless, they just want to see homeless encampments spread more equitably around the city.

"There are 11 city council districts, I think every district should find one spot in their district," said Drew Dutcher, a resident of Elyria for 14 years.

A recent survey dispersed by Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca's office shows a majority of residents voted for the Coors Field parking lot to be the safe camping space instead.

"While the mayor solicited feedback from each district on sites because of Council members, we know our districts best, he failed to mention that our input wouldn't actually be considered," CdeBaca said Tuesday in a written statement to CBS4. "While we support the Colorado Village Collaborative as a partner that has been willing to work with ANY recommendation, we are disappointed that the Mayor asked for feedback without any intentions of honoring it."

CdeBaca said she's calling on Mayor Michael Hancock to implement the designated campsites "on a scale to meet the needs within the city and with an equity lens that distributes multiple small, managed campsites throughout every district in the city."

CdeBaca said there are 4,171 unhoused people recorded in Denver, and would like to see small campsites of 54 people in each neighborhood.

"Many people preferred the Coors Field site, which has far less impact on a neighborhood, why was that passed over?" Dutcher said. "They did the easiest, cheapest, fastest thing that they could do."

Dutcher feels the community needs to be more included in the planning discussions.

"This is very sneaky, this is very underhanded, and this process is a joke," Dutcher said.

(credit: CBS)

Cole Chandler, a spokesperson for the Colorado Village Collaborative, said the city is still considering the locations for the two other sites, and is still looking for community feedback on the National Western Complex location.

"This is about a public health concern... something that could mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on the streets and among the general public, as well," Chandler said.

Chandler said the site at the Coliseum parking lot could open as early as August 6, depending on if and when the city council passes the proposal.

"The anticipated opening of Safe Outdoor Spaces should provide better options for people experiencing homelessness while addressing the public health risks occurring in the growing number of encampments in Denver," Cecchine-Williams said.

If you would like to join in on a community Zoom meeting to voice your opinion, the meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21, and the Zoom ID is 966 9692 3815.

Another Zoom meeting will be held Thursday, July 23, at 11:30 a.m., and the Zoom ID is 925 4405 0575. A final Zoom meeting will be held on Saturday, July 25, at 10:00 a.m., and the Zoom ID is 916 3236 3151.

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