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Safe Outdoor Spaces (SOS) Oral History Project

Safe Outdoor Spaces (SOS) were formed in July of 2020 through a partnership between the Denver Mayor’s Office and the non-profit Colorado Village Collaborative. These spaces are healthy, secure, resource-rich environments that provide shelter for individuals experiencing homelessness. The sites are often located in the parking lots of religious institutions or universities with tents set up for each resident.


In August and September of 2021, Alison Turner and Anna Winter recorded twelve oral histories with residents and staff at two SOS sites. In the recordings, participants discuss their complex experiences with homelessness, the impact of the unique SOS model, and how COVID affects their communities, among other topics. Every participant signed a consent form stating that they would like their narrative to be available to the public, published under the name of their choice. 

The full collection of these oral histories are available below in transcript and audio form. History Colorado has also included five of these interviews into their permanent collection, bringing some of our society's most knowledgable voices into the historical record. 

Special thanks for transcription support from Taylor Charron, Katie Crow, Delia LaJeunesse, Chas Turner, and Chris Bunch.

Visit the Colorado Village Collaborative website to learn more about and support SOS sites and other CVC initiatives.  

“It is a blessing to ask these questions and to have enough insight to start finding answers to the real, the real, reason why. Not why a person got there, but how does a person get out of it. Not physically, but emotionally. How do they get out of this emotionally?”

D. Part 1
00:00 / 32:07
D. Part 2
00:00 / 35:52

D. was born in Denver. He shares how being at the SOS camp has allowed him to “get grounded” and dig deep into the roots of his own experience with homelessness and the societal structures that are designed so that some people “fall through the cracks.” He reflects on the strength it takes for people experiencing homelessness to remain positive, how sweeps affect people emotionally, the irony of kicking people off the streets to allow more spaces for outdoor dining, and how physical structures are not enough to solve the disconnect that homelessness creates. He asks challenging questions about how we as a community can “deal with this.”


Cuica Montoya

“I just smiled a lot, I laughed a lot and I think once that self-esteem and self-confidence started building up in me it kinda bubbled into my heart, and my heart was like I need to do more.”

Cuica Part 1
00:00 / 44:09
Cuia Part 2
00:00 / 55:23

Cuica Montoya is the Outreach and Wellness Program Manager at the Colorado Village Collaborative and has played a major role in the long-term planning and daily operations of Denver’s SOS sites. One of the reasons Cuica is so good at her job is because she has lived experience: after growing up in Denver and reaching fast success in real estate, she experienced several years of addiction, imprisonment, and homelessness. Cuica reflects on the steps she took to work toward healing, the importance of peer support for recovery, and the various leadership roles she’s served to support people experiencing homelessness in Denver. She shares the trials, tribulations, deliberations, and successes of setting up each SOS site, the importance of the language used to describe these spaces, and the dignity that guests find within them.

“I truly do believe that homelessness is never going to be eradicated until the community gets involved, and that's everybody. Not just the churchgoers, not the leaders of the community, but the community itself.”

Issac Part 1
00:00 / 23:15
Issac Part 2
00:00 / 29:15

Issac has lived in Denver his entire life. He is always hungry to learn, loves fixing things, and works three different jobs.  He has experienced homelessness on and off since he was fifteen, and he shares how he survives the harder times by keeping a positive attitude, learning whom he can trust, and being open to any opportunity that he encounters. Issac survived several challenges of living on the streets the previous winter, which was particularly cold, including the explosion of his tent and hospitalization for frostnip. He reflects on how the feelings of safety in the SOS camp make all the difference and shares several stories about what life is like without that safety. At the time of the interview, he was just approved for housing!

Issac Babnick
Helena Reynoso

“being able to be this person who can sit here and tell them [...] ‘Let’s help you love yourself again' is really an honor and a privilege”

Helena, audio
00:00 / 33:11

Helena grew up in Denver and is now a site coordinator at an SOS camp. For four years, she experienced homelessness herself alongside addiction, and she describes how supporting others through her work at SOS benefits her own recovery. She also discusses the ways in which “street kids” look out for each other, how living on the streets through regular sweeps affected her relationship to material things, and how understanding addiction and homelessness through experience (versus a “school background”) creates a form of safety for this community. She describes the SOS site as a space where there is “always laughter.”

Psycho Security Guard

“I like the fact when I'm getting off at five o'clock in the morning [...]I’m on the way home to go to bed to sleep during the day when most of working America is just getting up and getting their day started.”

PSG, audio
00:00 / 40:39

Psycho Security Guard was born in Pittsburgh, lived for more than twenty years in Cleveland, spent a few years in New York City, and moved to Denver after the death of his father in March 2020. He has worked as a security guard for more than twenty years, which he enjoys because “it’s never the same thing every day.” He first experienced homelessness as a teenager soon after his parents’ divorce. He was on the waitlist to live in the SOS camp for several months and is now a camp resident. He discusses the importance of privacy, “community sense,” and stability that SOS provides. He currently works the night shift full time and enjoys returning home to the camp when everyone else is just starting their day.

“I got to share my experience with him. That's all I can do. I’m not gonna tell you what to do, [...] but hey this is what happened to me and this is what I did to get through it.”

Andrew, audio
00:00 / 35:58

Andrew grew up in California, spent a few years in Reno, and now works at an SOS site in Denver. He shares his experiences with addiction, living in various forms of rehab and sober living facilities, and homelessness. He describes how he got his job with the first SOS site on Pearl and Colfax, the sense of community at SOS sites, and the importance of a site that is located in a quiet neighborhood versus downtown. Andrew reflects on the process for people getting a tent at SOS and some of the challenges in this process. The conversation is occasionally interrupted by people ringing the door to donate ice or with questions for Andrew.

Andrew C.
Ann & Dan

“You know, if you come to us with a problem, most of us can help you figure it out, fix it.” - Dan

Ann&Dan Part 1
00:00 / 22:38
Ann&Dan Part 2
00:00 / 23:06

Ann is from Colorado and Dan is from Virginia. They met in middle school and are now married. They describe some of the challenges of camping in Denver, both in and out of the SOS camp, including the continuing “sweeps” of their belongings. They also identify aspects of the housing and shelter systems in Denver that create barriers to inclusive support, including a lack of shelter space for male-female couples and a housing process that requires more than 6 months of waitlists. Dan proposes that if homeowners were to work in collaboration with people experiencing homelessness, they would discover together many solutions to perceived “problems.” Ann suggests a model of community living that asks each person in the community to contribute what they can.

Theresa Brooks

“you have some people who get up regardless of [...]if they have something to do that day they get up and still fight. And that's something that I learned from them, to get up not knowing where you're going, not knowing what you're gonna do and you still get up with joy.”

Theresa, audio
00:00 / 48:44

Theresa is originally from Houston and now works at an SOS site in Denver. She has worked at other nonprofits supporting people experiencing homelessness and has witnessed the positive role that SOS plays in the lives of residents. She describes the forms of support that SOS sites uniquely provide, including a stable, safe environment where pets and partners are welcome, which makes it possible to save money, make contact with several of the city's resources, sign up for housing, and avoid isolation. She supports residents with several forms of wisdom, including the knowledge that “either the environment can change you or you can change the environment.” The interview is occasionally paused so that Theresa can answer the doorbell and questions asked by residents.

Chad Whisman

“I’ve given homeless people money, right out of my car. If I've got a couple extra bucks, and they got a sign, here you go. I don't care if you drink, but you should eat.”

Chad, audio
00:00 / 38:42

Chad was born and raised in Denver. He is a father of two, a loving dog owner, and has worked lots of different kinds of jobs. At the time of the interview, he arrived at the SOS camp only two weeks earlier. He reflects on his loss of several family members, several encounters with police, the kindness of others, getting his car towed when he lived in it, and the heroism of his dog, Dozer.

“society needs to be educated on what's going on and why. ‘Cause I think there's just this stigma of ‘go get a fucking job’ and it's just not how it works.”

Nick, audio
00:00 / 39:16

Nick grew up in Longmont and now works at an SOS site, a job that he describes as “the birthplace of my dream career.” Starting as a teenager, he spent several years in Boulder living in and out of homelessness, prison, and addiction. He describes some of the dangers of living on the streets, several of the changes over time that he observed in street culture, and the reasons why someone might feel “trapped” on the streets. He also shares the importance of removing criminal background checks for employment, setting your heart on what matters, and the kindness of strangers outside of donut shops.

Several of the SOS Oral History Project interviews have been included in the History Colorado collection. Click here to see them in their professional glory. Special thanks to Oral History Curator Rachael Storm.


“So this big idea about you not being racist, change your news. Learn to touch something and make it grow.”

Tyrone B. Part 1
00:00 / 25:36
Tyrone B. Part 2
00:00 / 18:35

Tyrone B. was born and raised in Upstate New York and has lived in Colorado for 7 years. He discusses his experiences in various shelters in Denver, encountering systemic racism, and ironies in the economy and tax systems. He shares several reasons why he is fed up with Black Lives Matter signs without systemic change behind them. He considers the Colorado culinary scene unacceptable and is considering ways to bring the foods he loves from New York into Colorado.


“I'm just really grateful for the opportunity to be in a space that I'm passionate about, like, I truly am just grateful every day. I haven't had a day where I go home and I'm like ' I hate my job.'”

Micaela Part 1
00:00 / 26:49
Micaela Part 2
00:00 / 30:45

Micaela was born in Kansas and moved to Colorado when she was eleven years old. At the time of the interview, she had left her first year of college because of the shift to online courses after COVID and now works at an SOS site. On her first night of work, a resident made a treat out of vanilla ice cream and pineapple soda, and right away Micaela knew that she would love working there. She describes some of the ways that SOS residents are “good to each other,” residents’ “drive to be innovative,” and how a non-judgmental environment is connected to safety. She also considers how capitalism and racism affect public perceptions of homelessness. 

Tyrone B.
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