The ever-present issue of homelessness in the Denver metro area met a novel small-scale solution in 2017, when the City of Denver's first legal community of tiny homes opened along 38th Street, giving a small number of people a lift in their struggle to exit homelessness.
Now, the second tiny home community by the same organization is in the works — and the builders are high school students.
One is Matthew Danfelser, a Cherry Creek High School senior who attends a class at the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus. Danfelser lives in Centennial, where he says he doesn't see homelessness as much as in Denver.
“It's sad to see, but I really like this idea of getting them back on their feet,” Danfelser said during a class session.
At the Innovation Campus, where high school students in the Cherry Creek district come to learn skills in several trades — from construction management to cybersecurity — students are building tiny homes as part of a partnership with the Colorado Village Collaborative.
That's the organization that launched Denver's first legal tiny home community, called Beloved Community Village, which later moved to the city's Globeville neighborhood.
The upcoming village will be the second-ever legal tiny home village for people experiencing homelessness in the Denver metro area, according to Cole Chandler, director of the Colorado Village Collaborative. It's also likely the second in the entire state, to Chandler's knowledge. Cathy Alderman — spokeswoman for Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, a Denver-based advocacy organization that provides supportive services — also said the upcoming village is likely Colorado's second for the homeless.
The organization sees its partnership with the Innovation Campus as a way to combine students' practical learning with gaining understanding of the local homelessness crisis and being good members of their community, Chandler said.
“We are hopeful that by introducing this topic to students early on in their careers, we affect the way that they think about homelessness throughout their lives as citizens,” Chandler added.
The students at Innovation Campus will build six units for a village that will allow women transitioning out of homelessness to live in them for up to a year, said Jim Dosky, an infrastructure engineering teacher who works with the class.
The students were working on the base of a home in mid-February, and they'll have the homes finished in April. Ideally, the homes will be delivered in early May, Dosky said.
Colorado Village Collaborative aims to open the village by the end of 2020, according to its website.
The village will sit at a location that isn't publicly known yet, said Mike Degitis, a math teacher at Innovation Campus who helped put together the class' partnership with the Colorado Village Collaborative. But it will be in the City of Denver, Chandler said.
Under federal law, the chronically homeless are defined as people with disabilities who experience extended or repeated episodes of homelessness. They often cycle in and out of hospitals, detox programs, jails and psychiatric institutions — all at high cost to the public.
Some studies have found that a person experiencing chronic homelessness can cost taxpayers as much as $30,000 or more per year, according to the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, a partnership of federal agencies.
Getting homeless people into tiny homes and connecting them to other services while housed could be much cheaper, Degitis said.
The Innovation Campus opened at the start of this school year. Danfelser, the Creek student, wishes he could have taken the class sooner.
“I'm having a ball,” Danfelser said, dressed in a neon vest and hardhat.
The students are proud to be working on the project, Dosky said.
“I mean, they're building people's homes,” he said.
The Innovation Campus is located at 8000 S. Chambers Road near East Broncos Parkway. It sits in the Dove Valley area of unincorporated Arapahoe County, just outside central Centennial.
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