Colorado Investing Big in Turning Ice-Fishing Tents to Shelter for Homeless

by Liz Holland

Colorado is joining other states in an effort to aid homeless communities with safe outdoor spaces. One 75 year old homeless man in Colorado, Gary Peters, moved into the developing community last summer. There he was given an ice-fishing tent. The tent was complete with electrical outlets, a cot, and a sleeping bag fit for zero degree weather. Prior to last summer, Peters spent seven years camping outside of a golf course to avoid public shelters. 

Denver has invested nearly $4 million in providing their homeless population with “safe outdoor spaces.”

Peters is one of many homeless people that have benefitted from the investment. Several members of the homeless community avoided staying in public shelters in recent years over concerns of COVID-19 transmission. Peters noted the threat of crime that often takes place in these indoor facilities with ABC, sharing “I’d rather freeze than spend the night in a shelter.”

The Denver program estimates that they will be able to assist around 370 people this year across four locations. The communities require residents to agree to a certain set of rules to stay there. However, these rules much less restrictive than that of shelters. Residents are allowed to come and go as they please, couples can stay together, and pets are allowed. The area is fenced off with a key-code entrance and visitors are not allowed. The insulated tents are available to those that agree to rules such as no weapons, no selling drugs, and to not disturb neighbors. The locations also offer meals, internet, showers, laundry, and trash services to its population. 

Co-Founder of Tent Collective for Homeless Speaks Up

Co-founder and Executive Director of the Colorado Village Collaborative shared some thoughts with ABC. He noted that many cities are shifting towards communities like these, saying that it shows the failures of the current public sheltering system. 

“People can’t afford housing and the emergency sheltering system that was sort of developed, you know, largely in the 80s, when the federal government got out of the business of funding housing is just like busting at the seams at this point,” Chandler said.

However, not everyone agrees with Chandler’s approach to the issue. Nan Roman, President of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, argues that indoor communities is better for health and chances of finding more permanent housing. 

One Advocate Argues Outdoor Communities Are Not the Answer

“We’re institutionalizing that it’s OK for people to live outside. Of course we need to do whatever they can if they’re living outside to keep them safe there’s no question,” Roman said. “It’s just hard to see us say as a nation ‘Well it’s OK to see people stay outside as long as they have a tent.’ It’s hard to feel that that’s progress.”

Chandler says communities like the tent collective provides the homeless population with stability and aids in transitioning them to indoor housing. 

“Not everybody is immediately ready to come indoors,” he said. “And I don’t want that to get played up as people don’t want housing, people want housing. But people want to come indoors on their own terms.”

He added that investment in affordable housing is important, but for now this provides a short term solution. “..We don’t have enough housing,” he said. “And so in the meantime, how do we take care of people? How do we build the types of cities that reflect our values? And we think safe outdoor spaces, help us get closer.”