The tented community of Native Americans races to rebuild after the fire

The tented community of Native Americans races to rebuild after the fire

Rosemary Palafox-Alfaro was awakened late in the night of September 17 by the sound of someone shouting “Fire”.

“It was very scary and I didn’t know what was going on 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 was out before setting fire to her tent, where she had stocked up on a new laptop, sheets, blankets, and other household items as she prepared to move into a new apartment. .

37 people were homeless and 16 lost everything they owned when the fire broke out at the all-encompassing safe outdoor space for Native Americans operated by the Colorado Village Cooperative at the corner of West Eight Street and Elati Street.

The cooperative staff on site helped everyone evacuate quickly and No one is hurt. Emergency responders contained the fire within minutes.

The co-op learned that it had to leave the Denver Health campus in December, because its lease had expired. But now, with 16 of the 41 available tents destroyed, there is added pressure to re-establish temporary housing ahead of the holidays and as the cold weather settles in.

Another fire prevention

Nearly 100 volunteers boarded Help create a new punishing tent community, at the Arie P. Taylor Local Center at East 47th Avenue and Peoria Street in the Montbello neighborhood. Some of them are regular helpers, who appear every time a collaboration creates a new community; Others are from Denver Health Community or another local human services organization. A handful of residents who lived on the site are also working on rebuilding their new home, said Koika Montoya, program manager for the Colorado Village Cooperative that oversees the safe outdoor spaces.

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The work at Montebello is being directed by the Denver Fire Department to ensure that site plans, operating policies and procedures continue to mitigate the chances of another fire, said Gray Waletich, senior director of the Colorado Village Cooperative responsible for building safe outdoor spaces.

This includes increasing the space between tents to 5 feet from 2 feet, Waletich said, to prevent the fire from spreading quickly and to allow it to be extinguished faster.

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

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

The Colorado Village Cooperative will purchase an outdoor hose designated 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 stairs for people with disabilities.

The cause of the fire is still undetermined.

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

Priority given to indigenous people

A safe and inclusive Native American outdoor space prioritizes Native people living in the homeless. Native Americans make up 1% of the population in Denver, yet they account for 6% of the population experiencing homelessness in the city.

“For the people of our community, it was doubly devastating, because some have lost everything they owned, and this community has already experienced a lot of displacement in their generational history and in their current history and it was very devastating. We did everything we could to support them,” Montoya said.

People displaced by the fire have been placed in emergency housing, including through a partnership with Denver Street Outreach Collaborative’s Bridge Housing Hotels, which is operated by the Colorado Homeless Coalition. Montoya said The Gathering Place — the only daytime center in metro Denver that serves women, transgender people, and their children — also has an emergency shelter program, which has hosted some displaced residents from the comprehensive Native American site.

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 purchase gift cards for 16 people who lost everything when their makeshift tent homes burned down.

The Native American Housing Circle, formed in 2019 to help address the overrepresentation of Native Americans in domestic homelessness, has also advocated for the creation of an inclusive Native American safe outdoor space with the City of Denver. They have also advised the Colorado Village Collaborative since the inception of the Comprehensive Native American Site Program.

A mural will be painted by an indigenous artist at the opening of the Montebello site. The site will also support traditional Native American ceremonies. A former resident who now resides leads beadwork workshops, a tradition that represents the resilience of the indigenous people, and is considered a sacred tribal art form.

“We have a drum circle during sunrise sometimes,” Montoya said. “It really just depends on who is there and what practices, cultural traditions and ceremonies they want to hold at the site. What we do is prioritize having them in our program in a designated space where they feel their cultures, traditions and practices can be honored.”

Purposeful expansion

But Montoya said few of the people displaced by the fire wanted to move to the new site.

“I don’t see many of them wanting to relocate and be uprooted,” Montoya said. People have this sense of stability. A couple wanted to help create the new site and bring the spirit of the old site to the space. So we’ll have a few—less than five of our Natives move to the new site—but then we’ll make intakes of people in the neighborhood and other identified Native Americans and offer them the new space. “

Safe outdoor spaces are often temporary and typically run for a year or two on private property or unused public land leased to a Colorado Village Cooperative. Communities are staffed around the clock by people who help direct residents to services that can help them transition to work and permanent housing. The spaces include toilet and shower facilities, a place to do laundry and regular meals.

Montoya said that every time he moved a safe outdoor space, it cost $300,000. The Colorado Village Collaborative is always looking for land owners willing to lease the land to the organization to host temporary and long-term secure outdoor space or permanent replacement housing.

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

“With everything getting more expensive and staffing short, we want to be really feasible about when to expand,” Montoya said. “But we hope to evaluate other options for expanding existing spaces as well.”

“It was much more peaceful than other camps.”

Palafox Alfaro was living in precarious housing before she moved and moved into a shelter. She had been driving to a secure outdoor space at East 38th Avenue and Steele Street in the Clayton neighborhood several times, and eventually asked a caseworker at St. Francis Center, who had recently purchased a secure outdoor space in Barnum at 221 Federal Boulevard, if there was space. her there.

All safe outdoor spaces are riddled with long waiting lists, the case official said, but the comprehensive Native American site could prioritize Palafox-Alfaro, which is part of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, which has a reservation in South Dakota.

Rosemary Palafox Alfaro – member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe – is a former resident of Safe Outer Space (NAI-sos) at 8th Avenue and Elati in Denver, Colorado. Rosemary lost her possessions and was displaced after a fire broke out at the Elati site in mid-September. Two weeks ago, Rosemary was moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Glendale. She has obtained a job removing asbestos, and is pursuing an engineering degree as an honors student. Tuesday, November 22, 2022 (Jeremy Sparig, special for The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Village Cooperative prioritizes Native Americans who are referred from organizations serving Native populations and other referral partners.

“We have a plan to start a welcome committee so people can get to know the indigenous people and respect the place,” Montoya said. “It will consist of people who live in the space to give direction to people who are not indigenous to explain why this is important in society.”

Palafox-Alfaro lived on the comprehensive Native American site until the fire.

“She was nice and quiet,” she said. “It was much more peaceful than other camps. It helps to have people from your culture. It helped me a lot because they put me in touch with school and university.”

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

“It is a nice. she said at her new apartment on a Tuesday night. “I like to have peace and quiet and more space.”

moreThe Colorado Village Cooperative is asking for volunteers to help build an inclusive Native American site at 4685 Peoria Street. using an online form And the To donate to the organization to operating costs.

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