Supporting Safe Outdoor Spaces as a Solution to Homelessness

In 2020, a new approach to resolving the stressors of homelessness was launched in Denver. Safe Outdoor Spaces (SOS) was introduced by the Colorado Village Collaborative and came to fruition in partnership with Denver Community Church and First Baptist Church. The SOS is committed to providing community, shelter, 24-hour staff support, connection to community resources, harm reduction and safety. The SOS has been able to connect people to housing resources, and at least four people have since moved into permanent housing options, others to treatment, and some have been reunified with family.Twelve more are close to receiving permanent housing options.

Teams of Denver Public Library are committed to serving and reaching out to the most vulnerable in our community and have been a partner in supporting the residents of the SOS since its inception in 2020. Our values of welcoming, connection and equity come into play, as we provide support and services for SOS and those seeking shelter in our community. The library’s Community Resources Team provides peer navigation and social work support, and the Community Technology Center provides technology help and brings Chromebooks and wifi hotspots for people to use for internet access and to navigate resources while providing support services. Denver Public Library’s Digital Inclusion is also providing smartphones to the people who live at the SOS sites. The concept of the SOS is brilliantly aligned with the National Alliance for Ending Homelessness’ priority of centering Housing First in solutions for homelessness. Housing First is exactly what it sounds like, offering a person a place to call home and providing the services for them from there so that they can be successful in reaching goals. SOS is a concept of this or even more specifically can be referred to as Bridge Housing. Bridge Housing has proven to be successful in reducing Veteran Homelessness, and this model helps prepare people for permanent housing by providing resources for obtaining documents. Documents being ID, birth certificate, and Social Security card, all of which (and sometimes additional documents) are needed to qualify for government-supported housing.

The Colorado Village Collaborative reports the project costs just under $25 per person per night. Research on Housing First has proven a $31,545 savings per person per year versus doing nothing, and a $23,000 savings per year compared to using shelter programs.

As we look to dig ourselves out the pandemic, the Denver Public Library has been focusing on providing services to the most vulnerable and marginalized in our community. Serving our unhoused neighbors and those who are digitally isolated remains a priority to our organization.

Colorado Village Collaborative will be relocating the SOS to the Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah parking lot. Denver Public Library will continue to support SOS after this move, Community Resources and Community Technology Center staff will be there in support providing access and services to those at this location. Through Denver Public Library’s Digital Inclusion initiative, our staff also distributed smartphones with one year of service and data at SOS sites beginning April 30th, 2021.

Written by Elissa on May 10, 2021