The tent community that includes Native Americans races to rebuild after the fire

Rosemarie Palafox-Alfaro woke up late on the night of September 17 to the sound of someone yelling “fire.”

“It was very scary and I didn’t know what was happening at first,” she said.

After she and other residents of a city-sanctioned tent camp near Denver Health were evacuated, Palafox-Alfaro learned the fire had stopped just before it burned her tent, where she had stored a new laptop, sheets, blankets and other household items. prepared to move into a new apartment.

Thirty-seven residents were displaced by the fire and 16 people lost everything they owned when the blaze tore through the Native American safe outdoor space managed by the Colorado Village Collaborative at the corner of West Eighth Avenue and Elati Street.

Cooperative on-site personnel helped everyone evacuate quickly and no one was injured. Emergency services contained the fire within minutes.

The partnership knew it had to leave the Denver Health campus in December because its lease was up. But now, after 16 of the 41 available tents were destroyed, there is added pressure to recreate temporary housing before the holidays and as the cold weather settles in.

Prevention of another fire

Nearly 100 volunteers have stepped up to help create a new sanctioned tent community at the Arie P. Taylor Civic Center east of 47th Avenue and Peoria Street in the Montbello neighborhood. Some are regular helpers, appearing every time the collaboration creates a new community; others are from the Denver Health community or another local human service organization. A handful of residents who lived at the site are also working to rebuild their new home, said Cuica Montoya, program director for the Colorado Village Collaborative that oversees safe outdoor spaces.


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The Denver Fire Department is leading the work in Montbello to ensure its site plans, operational policies and procedures continue to mitigate the chances of another fire, said Gray Waletich, senior director of the Colorado Village Collaborative. responsible for building safe outdoor spaces.

That includes increasing the amount of space between tents to 5 feet from 2.5 feet to prevent the fire from spreading quickly and allow it to be extinguished more quickly, Waletich said.

A safety committee will help ensure those precautions are implemented, and the group will compile a document with those plans that can be shared systemwide, he said. Two secure outdoor spaces are currently in operation.

The new site with 34 units will be completed by the end of the year. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The Colorado Village Collaborative will purchase a dedicated outdoor hose specifically for emergency use at each site, ensure that fire extinguishers are in service, and ensure that there is adequate lighting at the new site with accessible ramps with disabilities, Waletich said.

The causes of the fire are still unknown.

“The fire was devastating to our community members, to our staff, to our neighborhood and to Denver Health,” Montoya said.

Prioritize native people

Native American Inclusive Safe Outdoor Space prioritizes Native people experiencing homelessness. Native Americans make up 1% of Denver’s population, but make up 6% of the city’s homeless population.

“For members of our community, it was doubly devastating, because some lost everything they had, and this community has already experienced so much displacement in its generational history and in its current history, and it was extremely devastating. But we did everything we could to support them,” Montoya said.

People displaced by the fire were placed in emergency housing, including through a partnership with the Denver Street Outreach Collaborative’s Bridge Housing hotels, managed by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. The Gathering Place, the only day care center in metro Denver serving women, transgender people and their children, also has an emergency shelter program, which has housed some residents displaced from the Native American inclusive site , Montoya said.

The Four Winds Indian Council also collected donations to help replace items lost in the fire, and the Colorado Village Collaborative started a campaign to buy gift cards for the 16 people who lost everything when their homes burned. temporary tents.

The Native American Housing Circle, which formed in 2019 to help address the overrepresentation of Native Americans in local homelessness, also advocated for the creation of an inclusive safe outdoor space for Native Americans with the city of Denver. They have also advised the Colorado Village Collaborative since the inception of the Native American Sites program.

An indigenous artist will paint an art mural when the Montbello site opens. The site will also support traditional Native American ceremonies. A former resident who is now housed runs bead workshops, a tradition that represents indigenous resilience and is considered a sacred tribal art form.

“Sometimes we have a drum circle during sunrise,” Montoya said. “It really depends on who is there and what cultural practices, traditions and ceremonies they would like to have in place. What we are doing is prioritizing their presence in our program in a dedicated space where they feel their cultures, traditions and practices can be honor”.

Significant expansion

But only some of the people who were displaced by the fire want to move to the new site, Montoya said.

“I don’t see a lot of them wanting to move and start again,” Montoya said. “People have this sense of stability. There’s a couple who want to help create the new place and bring the spirit of the old place to the space. So we’ll have a handful (less than five of our people (originals will be moved to the new location), but then we will host the neighborhood people and other Native Americans who have identified and offer the new space for them.”

Safe outdoor spaces are usually temporary and typically operate for a year or two on private property or unused public land leased from the Colorado Village Collaborative. Communities are staffed 24 hours a day by people who help direct residents to services that can help them transition to employment and permanent housing. The spaces include toilets and showers, a place to do laundry and regular meals.

Every time a safe outdoor space is moved, it costs $300,000, Montoya said. The Colorado Village Collaborative is always looking for landowners willing to lease land to the organization to host a temporary, long-term, or permanent safe outdoor space for an alternative shelter.

The Colorado Village Collaborative hopes to open a fourth safe outdoor space in the third quarter of 2023.

“With the cost of everything going up and staffing shortages, we want to be really meaningful when we expand,” Montoya said. “But we hope to evaluate other options to expand existing spaces as well.”

“It was much quieter than the other fields”

Palafox-Alfaro lived in unstable housing before moving out and moving into a shelter. He had driven by a safe outdoor space at East 38th Avenue and Steele Street in the Clayton neighborhood many times, and finally asked a social worker at the St. Francis Center, which recently purchased Barnum’s safe outdoor space at 221 Federal Boulevard, if there was room for her there.

The caseworker said all the secure outdoor spaces were filled with long waiting lists, but the Native American inclusion site could prioritize Palafox-Alfaro, who is part of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, which has its reservation in South Dakota

Rosemarie Palafox-Alfaro – a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe – was a former resident of the American Safe Inclusive Outdoor Space (NAI-sos) at 8th Avenue and Elati in Denver, Colorado. Rosemarie lost her belongings and was displaced after a fire ravaged the Elati site in mid-September. Two weeks ago, Rosemarie moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Glendale; has obtained employment in asbestos removal and is pursuing a degree in engineering as an honors student. Tuesday, November 22, 2022 (Jeremy Sparig, Special for The Colorado Sun)

The Colorado Village Collaborative prioritizes Native American referrals from Native-serving organizations and other referral partners.

“We have a plan to start a welcoming committee so people can meet the natives and respect the space,” Montoya said. “It will be made up of people who live in the space to give guidance to non-Native people to explain why this is important to the community.”

Palafox-Alfaro lived at the Native American site until the fire.

“It was nice and quiet,” he said. “It was much calmer than the other fields. It helps to have people who are from your culture. It helped me a lot because they put me in touch with the school, with the university.”

Palafox-Alfaro is now a student at Metropolitan State University, where she is studying to become a construction project manager. Safe Outer Space leaders helped her find an apartment in Glendale, which she pays to use an emergency housing voucher that prioritizes Native Americans, she said.

“It’s awesome. I love it,” she said Tuesday night in her new apartment. “I love having peace and quiet and more space.”

MONTH: The Colorado Village Collaborative is asking for volunteers to help build the Native American Inclusion Site at 4685 Peoria St. using an online form i to give to the organization for operating costs.


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