Denver, CO

Sanctioned campsites for homeless under attack

David Heitz

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Colorado Village Collaborative CEO Cole Chandler explains how sanctioned encampments work.(Photo/Colorado Village Collaborative)

There's a battle being waged against sanctioned campsites for people experiencing homelessness on the Front Range.

A group of residents from the Park Hill neighborhood has filed a 12-page lawsuit to stop a sanctioned campsite from coming to their community. The plaintiffs are showing no mercy, even listing Park Hill United Methodist Church and its pastor, Nathan Adams, as defendants. The group of neighbors also are suing the city and county of Denver and the Colorado Village Collaborative, which would oversee the sanctioned campsite.

The plaintiffs of the lawsuit filed in Denver District Court are Kurt Monigle, Dave Rodman, Jean Baptiste-Varnier, Justin Lovac and Blair Taylor.

The sanctioned campsite is set to open in June at the church, 5209 Montview Boulevard. The plaintiffs list several reasons why they are opposed to the sanctioned campsite. The church is in an affluent part of Denver.

Plaintiffs want encampment dwellers drug tested

The plaintiffs believe people staying in the sanctioned campsites should be drug tested. They want to see the people who stay there regularly have their belongings searched for drugs. They claim intoxicated people will be allowed to stay there.

The plaintiffs argue the Park Hill United Methodist site is not as well prepared for the sanctioned campers as the site in the Capitol Hill neighborhood that it replaces.

Those who filed the lawsuit say that with the sanctioned campground set up in the church parking lot, congregants will be forced to find street parking for Sunday worship. They allege that will make it difficult for residents to find parking, too.

The plaintiffs believe the campsite would be harmful to children, stating security will not be adequate. The campsite is four blocks from Park Hill Elementary School, the litigants pointed out.

“Plaintiffs, along with minors and school-aged children, are in danger of real, immediate, and irreparable injury, which may be prevented by injunctive relief,” the lawsuit states. “As set forth above, the (sanctioned campground) will be located on the same grounds as a preschool, in a residential neighborhood with minors and school-aged children, within walking distance of seven schools, and does not have an adequate operation plan to address these issues.”

The angry neighbors also allege that personnel from Colorado Village Collaborative have no training in de-escalation practices with the mentally ill. Finally, the unwelcoming neighbors say there already is another sanctioned campsite just six miles away at Regis University.

Sanctioned campsite backers not backing down

Colorado Village Collaborative responded to the lawsuit in a Tweeted press release. “These are precisely the kinds of well-funded arguments we have heard before in efforts to advance and protect various forms of segregation and oppression throughout our nation’s history,” wrote Executive Director Cole Chandler. “When given the option, time and again, some groups of powerful individuals seek to choose their neighbors along lines such as class, race, religion, sexual orientation, and other forms of oppression.

“When the art of justice has prevailed in these historic examples, a clear and simple truth has been revealed: No one gets to choose who lives next door.”

Chandler said the collaborative has no intention of backing down from binging even more sanctioned encampments to the city. “Regardless of their intention, the plaintiffs have not deterred us. The plaintiffs have lit a fire underneath us.

“We’re here to ensure this fire does not grow into an untamed flame that would burn our progress to the ground, but the sacred sort of fire that gathers community together to be made safe, warm and whole.”

Republican leader also bucks encampments

Meantime, the leader of the Denver Republican Party, Garrett Flicker, is circulating petitions for a ballot initiative that would limit the number of sanctioned homeless encampments in the city to four.

The homeless advocacy group Homeless Out Loud is encouraging people not to sign the petitions.

“The chair of the Denver Republican Party is bringing forward a ballot initiative for the November 2021 ballot that would enable individuals to force the city police through threat of civil suit to enforce the Camping Ban within 72 hours of when they call to complain and force houseless people into a max of four legal campsites,” Denver Homeless Out Loud explains in a news release. “There is no information on the proposed size, or location of these forced camps.

“We have seen this practice of forcing certain unwanted populations into mass campsites before. Let’s not let this happen again.”

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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