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Concrete Couch works on fulfilling its vision 

Set in stone

click to enlarge A colorful sign greets visitors to Concrete Coyote. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • A colorful sign greets visitors to Concrete Coyote.

Concrete Coyote — the new home of nonprofit Concrete Couch — began as a radical idea.

Director Steve Wood and his staff wanted to buy a 5-acre piece of land for their scrappy, community-focused organization to host workshops, field trips, art classes and jam sessions. Not only that, but they also hoped to create a temporary home for the dozens of unhoused people who were already camping on the property south of downtown.

The number of campers increased rapidly before Concrete Couch could close on the deal, though, and the nonprofit faced an uphill battle to circumvent zoning requirements and fund the necessary security personnel to monitor a homeless encampment. In December 2018, the Colorado Springs Police Department ordered the campers to leave the site nicknamed “the Quarry,” part of which is now owned by Concrete Couch.

But now, almost a year after the nonprofit was able to purchase the site from The Legacy Institute, Concrete Couch is taking small steps toward big changes.
For one, it’s engaging formerly houseless caretakers to watch the land in exchange for a small monthly stipend and shelter.

“I don’t mind helping out, because I’ve been through so much,” says caretaker Leland Graner, who stays in a tiny house on the property with solar-generated electricity. Though Graner sometimes wishes he had a TV, he likes the ability to keep his phone charged or make pizza in the solar oven — a setup constructed by Concrete Couch.

He walks the property regularly to make sure no one’s camping on the land, and when he finds campers, tells them they need to move on. Concrete Couch has installed a gate to cut down on vehicle traffic.

“I have keys to everything,” Graner says. “If something happens... I can call the cops or paramedics, and they’ll be here in a heartbeat.”

click to enlarge As a caretaker, Leland Graner helps oversee Concrete Couch’s property. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • As a caretaker, Leland Graner helps oversee Concrete Couch’s property.

There’s a lot of foot traffic, he adds, as some people don’t realize the site is privately owned and monitored.

Graner, who turns 60 this year, formerly camped on the Quarry site himself with his cat — sometimes interacting with Concrete Couch’s staff and volunteers as the nonprofit prepared to buy the property.

Concrete Couch set up the caretaker’s residence in May 2019, Wood says. Graner was recruited with the help of Homeward Pikes Peak, a nonprofit that connects people experiencing homelessness with housing and resources, and on “double recommendations” from associates of Concrete Couch.

“Leland’s a really sweet guy, really dependable,” Wood says.

click to enlarge A teahouse is partially built near the entrance. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • A teahouse is partially built near the entrance.

Other elements of Concrete Couch’s vision are coming to fruition, too.

Near the entrance at Royer and Las Vegas streets, a teahouse is partly built near the caretaker’s residence with cold frames growing fresh produce.

On a February walking tour, Site Manager Craig Cantrell points out a kids’ soccer field and several disc golf baskets with artistic embellishments. (Disc golf is a favorite pastime of Cantrell’s.)

Next to the creek, which runs through the property below an old railroad line, a cast-off park bench from the city of Manitou Springs nestles into a hill, with steps leading up to it. Balanced rock sculptures decorate the creek bed.

click to enlarge Rock sculptures by Raymond Fischer adorn the land. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Rock sculptures by Raymond Fischer adorn the land.

Nearby, a volunteer works on terracing the hillside. Bike trails crisscross the property, which is enveloped in a peaceful stillness on the sunny, mild afternoon.

Cantrell says the first tent in “quite a while” was set up right on the bike trail a few weeks ago. After asking the campers to leave, “unfortunately, we had to call the HOT team,” Cantrell says, referring to the Colorado Springs Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team.

Most Tuesdays, volunteers gather to help build bike trails and walking paths. For stairs, they use scraps of concrete and other materials, left over from when the land was home to a concrete batch plant.

“We have a class almost every day or an experience, so I think we’ve done really, really well with that,” Wood says, naming the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, Community Prep School, military veterans and the Horticultural Art Society of Colorado Springs among the “groups that have found a little place” on the land.

There’s weekly classes, community soccer games, jam sessions, potlucks, construction projects and painting.

Eventually, Wood says, the dream is to open Concrete Coyote as a public park — not just for classes and events. But before that can happen, the group will have to
secure insurance coverage for visitors to the park, which is tricky for a small nonprofit (though Concrete Couch already has insurance for the land’s current uses).

“Our main focus right now is to continue to clean it up, to get the basic trail in, to collect some baseline [aquatic health] data on the creek,” Wood says, “... and building towards making this public park while we’re also moving forward on our development plan for our office.”

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