Tucked away on a lot on the edge of RiNo between a brewery and a commuter rail station is a thriving village for Denver’s chronically homeless. The weather isn’t cooperating on this day, but that isn’t putting a damper on the potluck at the Beloved Community Village.
It’s an anniversary of sorts. This time last year, everyone was just settling into the tiny home hamlet built to house the homeless. Now, they’re here celebrating their progress and looking to what’s next.
“I told myself I would never move into a tiny home,” laughed Ray Lyall. “I built these, I did a lot of work on this stuff, I’ve been doing it for five and a half years.”
Lyall hasn’t forgotten about the 2015 raid of a prototype tiny village he and others had built a few blocks from here in the nearby Curtis Park neighborhood. He was one of 10 people arrested that day. After that, advocates said officers undertook “the destruction and removal of several tiny homes which the group had constructed for houseless community members to live in.” That was about the time Lyall decided he didn’t want to live in a tiny house anymore. But that was long before he met his wife.
“I came to a village council and my wife was trying to get into one, and I said, ‘this is perfect for her, why not let her in,’ and I think I fell in love with her right after that,” he said. “And a couple months later, we got married.”
The village council is all part of the village’s system of self-governance. The only rules here are those created by villagers themselves. There’s no curfew, like most homeless shelters have. Couples and pets are allowed, unlike most homeless shelters. There are communal bathrooms, and the large meeting place in the middle of 11 small, austere houses. Behind the community building are two small container gardens, the farthest one with a hand-painted sign that says “Margaritaville.” The whole village is surrounded by a colorful privacy fence.
For Amanda Lyall, Ray’s wife, “community” isn’t just a word in the name. It’s the key to what makes this place tick.
“When I came in here, there were two different residents that made me their emergency contact, I would go to doctors appointments with them, help them get their prescriptions and help them set up their resource navigation and everything,” she said. “It gives not just me, but the other people here too, it gives us all a family that we haven’t had in a long time.”
Amanda said success is hard to measure because it’s different for everyone here. Organizers with the Colorado Village Collaborative — the nonprofit behind the project — let villagers define success for themselves. In the meantime, they have a safe place to stay, a door they can lock and people to look out for them.
In the past year, Amanda Lyall has taken on work with two different nonprofits, volunteering for homelessness-related causes when she can. She’s also taken on myriad responsibilities in the village like overseeing the communal cellphone or helping organize events like the celebratory potluck. Lyall is getting ready to move onto more permanent housing in about a month. She was approved for subsidized housing for women, which means Ray will stay behind. While she admits that leaving this place will be bittersweet, it’s for a good reason.
“I have a daughter that I want back. She’s my whole entire world and I need her back,” Amanda said, her voice cracking. “She’s great motivation, she’s the reason it’s hard to wake up in the morning, because it’s hard to breathe without her, but she’s the reason that I absolutely must, and have to keep going.”
The Colorado Village Collaborative was founded by members of Beloved Mennonite Church and Denver Homeless Out Loud, along with architects, engineers and urban planners who donate their time. But Cole Chandler, who works as a facilitator with the group, said they can’t take full credit.