Submitted by Rev. Brian Rossbert
Development Director, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado
n light of "sweeps" by Denver Police of homeless encampments, a coalition of organizations in Denver is trying to present an alternative. Safe Outdoor Space (SOS) is a partial solution to the challenge of homelessness in our cities and towns. By providing a safe place for our unhoused neighbors to find shelter, we are working to help each find a way out of homelessness and into housing.
What does it take to provide safe space for our unhoused neighbors to reside and receive services without fear of being “swept” by police and other government officials? This is the question a team of committed organizations has been asking in the City of Denver over the last several months.
The organizations, including the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado
, Colorado Village Collaborative
, Dignity Project
, and others, has come together to both convince the political powers that be that safe outdoor space (SOS) is a viable and necessary part of helping those experiencing homelessness and provide the person-power to make it a reality.
At its core, SOS is a safe, healthy, secure, staffed, resource and service-rich environment that prioritizes people experiencing homelessness who are not accessing existing services or resources. An SOS includes the following facilities and services:
- Tents, bathrooms, hand-washing, electricity, wireless internet, showers, laundry, and food access
- Wellness screenings and links to hotels and health care services
- Outreach workers and case management
By working in collaboration and providing the City of Denver with research and evidence of the effectiveness of SOS, the coalition was able to convince Mayor Hancock to sanction temporary safe outdoor spaces within the city limits. The team is now working through the tangled web of city departments, public and private landholders, concerned neighbors, and more to find three sites to temporarily provide shelter and services to some of our most vulnerable neighbors. The coalition hopes to have three sites sheltering up to 60 people each in the very near future.
The lessons being learned in Denver will be applied to other cities and towns throughout Colorado and the region. With generous donations from foundations and local organizations alike, safe outdoor space for our most vulnerable (and often scapegoated) neighbors can become a reality.
Your prayers for SOS are appreciated and if you would like to get involved in SOS in your community, please be in touch with Kathleen Van Voorhis at firstname.lastname@example.org