Welcome to the Neighborhood
The Park Hill Safe Outdoor Space, only 2.2 miles away from East High School, has minimized the gap between the homeless community and stable housing. Instead of viewing them as “outsiders,” people are now welcoming them to the community as neighbors; all deserving of kindness and breaking down the stigma.
Colorado Village Collaborative (CVC) program manager Cuica Montoya actively works to provide a safe pathway between streets and stable housing. Montoya has recognized that homelessness has historically generated an abundance of stigma. “A misconception is that everybody’s a violent criminal or drug addict or has mental health issues,” Montoya details. “The biggest misconception is that it’s a moral failing of a person.”
CVC is aiming to diminish those biases by encouraging healthy and safe support to anyone in need. From personal experience, Montoya admits she “experienced homelessness for three years after a series of unfortunate events.” She had previously maintained a career, house, and family life. Getting out of homelessness was a “full-time job” that required the utmost amount of motivation; expecting less or providing less to the community of homeless people is unethical because anyone can be in that position. “There's family breakups, domestic violence, and youth who experience homelessness due to coming out as LGBTQ.”
A major obstacle to providing temporary housing and encampments is funding. In 2020, Denver passed a homelessness resolution called 2B, which dedicated a “25% sales tax for every 100 dollars spent in Denver” to the resolution of homelessness. This allows the CVC to provide resources such as doctors, nurses, and behavioral health technicians; as well as technology access, sourced by the Denver Public Libraries. A grant for phones has also been acquired for job hunting.
Montoya has recently seen a resident move into an apartment and another to a treatment program. “They decided to tackle their challenges of substance abuse,” as a result of the CVC’s guidance and resources.
CVC is actively voicing core values the public should hold: homelessness wasn't caused by homeless people — homelessness should be dignified, and financially struggling people have a right to the city. Residents of the affluent Park Hill area were initially “really pissed” about the new encampment. After six months of housing several dozen residents, “a huge group of people were in support,” Montoya continues “it was a complete shift of perspectives.”