It has been two months since Denver cleaned up homeless encampments near downtown and along the Platte. While some of the people who were cleared out during the sweeps have decided to take refuge in the city’s homeless shelters, others want to stay outside.
Why would someone choose to sleep outside? For this month’s Ask a Vendor column, we put the question to our very own group of experts. Not surprisingly, there was no consensus. In fact, Denver VOICE vendors are pretty evenly divided on whether or not they feel safe or comfortable in emergency shelters.
Part of the VOICE’s mission is to break down stereotypes about homelessness and poverty. There is no one type of person experiencing homelessness. Once we recognize that fact, it becomes easier to understand why a traditional overnight shelter might not work for everyone.
Just as there are a myriad of reasons why someone becomes homeless, there are a myriad of reasons why some people are “resistant to services.” Maybe they don’t want to stay in overnight shelters because they don’t feel safe, or they can’t bring their belongings, or they don’t want to (or don’t have the time to) wait in line. Or maybe they don’t want to abide by the shelter’s drug and alcohol policy.
Across the U.S., tent cities like Tent City 3 in Seattle are proving to be viable shelter alternatives. Tent City 3 is a homeless encampment authorized by the city. It provides all the amenities a traditional shelter provides, and then some: residents have more room to store belongings and can come and go as they please. (It is worth mentioning that Tent City 3 has a zero-tolerance policy regarding drugs and alcohol, which is likely part of the reason it works so well.)
Not all tent cities are run as efficiently as Tent City 3. On page five we’ve published an essay by a streetpaper vendor from Nashville. She is staying in a rural, unsanctioned encampment where hygiene problems abound.
Authorized tent encampments might not be the answer for Denver—for one thing, our climate isn’t as temperate as Seattle’s. But tent cities have shown us that there is more than one answer to the question of how to provide shelter. ■