Denver, CO

Report expected soon on fire at Denver tent village for homeless people

David Heitz
A Denver Safe Outdoor Space.Colorado Village Collaborative

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) The Denver Fire Department likely will release a report this week explaining what started a fire at a homeless tent village at 8th and Elati in the Denver Health parking lot.

The legal campsite, run by Colorado Village Collaborative, houses people experiencing homelessness in fishing tents. Residents get meals, restroom facilities, and wraparound services such as mental health care.

Fire ripped through the campsite Sept. 17, destroying several tents. No one was injured but several residents were displaced.

“It sounds like the report is expected to come out this week as far as identifying the cause of the fire at 8th and Elati,” Capt. John Chism said Monday in response to a reporter’s questions about the fire. “I cannot speak to what kind of changes this might influence with the SOS spaces.”

SOS stands for “Safe Outdoor Spaces” for which the city hosts four. Several dozen tents make up the sites, which rotate around the city four at a time. Chism said the fire department will continue to inspect the sites once or twice per month.

Uncertain whether fire will spark change

When asked whether the fire at the campsite will cause the Fire Department to ask the council to make changes to Safe Outdoor Spaces, Chism responded, “As for if the fire department is going to present any requests to council, we are currently in conversations with community leaders and members of council, however any official requests to council we are still in the research phase of what is needed from a fire prevention aspect.”

Safe Outdoor Spaces elicit different responses from different lawmakers. In a story last year, councilmember Kendra Black remarked, “I do acknowledge these (safe outdoor space) sites are better than living on the street, but I am not one of these people celebrating people living in tents.” Many other councilmembers have spoken in support of Safe Outdoor Spaces.

Councilmembers: Tents not housing

Black and City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer have said they don’t believe putting a person experiencing homelessness in a tent is akin to housing. They essentially are being moved from tents on the public right of way into a sanctioned tent community where no guests are allowed.

In a statement last month, Denver Health and Colorado Village Collaborative announced the site would be moving. “To date, the Native American-Inclusive SOS at Denver Health has served 95 people, including 53 Native Americans, providing well over 10,000 nights of safe, dignified shelter. At least 24 residents have moved into longer-term housing. Additionally, more than 300 meals for at least 45 people have been served at the site by 44 volunteers amounting to more than 200 volunteer hours.”

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO

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