Denver, CO

Rap song, documentary blast Denver mayor

David Heitz

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The activist group Homeless Out Loud has partnered to create a rap video and documentary blasting Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s homeless sweeps.

The videos show footage of cops clashing with people experiencing homelessness during the so-called “cleanups.” The footage may be triggering to homeless people with PTSD.

“Mayor Hancock the streets need you, you promised to do something, but we don’t believe you,” the rap song’s chorus goes. “Downtown looking like a war zone, many despondent, no place to call home.”

The song continues, “Another shot at life is what they need, and a decent place to wash their feet.”

Video shows homeless struggle

Footage from the documentary shows homeless people in great distress. “You disrespectful racist piece of f*cking sh*t!” one person experiencing homelessness yells at a cop.

“I’ve been chased around this town for two years,” says another homeless person of police. “Once I was swept up three times (in one night). They did not leave us alone until 3 o’clock in the morning.”

The man said he has PTSD from military service. “If someone tries to bump me, I think they’re trying to hurt me. I have to step outside.

“They tell me at shelters if I step outside, I can’t come back in,” he said, explaining why he sleeps outside.

He went on to say he has no ID and no food stamp card because COVID “has shut everything down.”

“I don’t have a phone. How am I supposed to call (for services)? How am I supposed to do this? What are we supposed to do?”

Hip-hop artists familiar with homelessness

Jeff Campbell, head of Emancipation Theater Company, reached out to friends who are local hip-hop artists to create the music for the rap song. Campbell is active in Homeless Out Loud’s “Message to the Mayor” campaigns aimed at raising public outcry over the sweeps.

The song is sung by Kid Astronaut, aka Jon Shockness of Air Dubai. It also features Adrean “Bumpy Chill” Jones, Jeffery “Kingdom” McWhorter and Shannon “Mizta Sandman” Richardson collaborating with Mic Coats, producer of the song “I Can't Breathe (Again).” That song focused on the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing Denver protests.

“Remember one false move you could be in their shoes so be careful who you turn your nose up to,” the video warns. “It’s a pandemic, citizens are dying man, no place to use the toilet or wash their hands.”

Community organizer Jeff Fard (Brother Jeff) shot most of the video.

Video claims Hancock ‘hesitant and negligent’

The rap song claims Mayor Hancock is “hesitant and negligent to protect the unhoused residents” despite his claims of growing up in poverty as a person of color and being a common person.

The rappers call it “a lame duck philosophy.”

"Mic put together that beat in a couple of days and sent it to us all, and those cats were ready immediately,” Campbell told Westword. “It was cool because they didn’t need any prompts around the subject matter. They’re close to the street and close to the topic, and some of them have even experienced homelessness themselves, so it was a perfect fit for those that I recruited and the topic."

Homeless Out Loud and 10 people experiencing homelessness filed a lawsuit in federal court over the sweeps. A judge ruled Denver must give people experiencing homelessness advance notice of the sweeps.

Mayor’s office responds to criticism

In a statement to Westword, the mayor’s office said:

"When it comes to street homelessness and encampments, our highest priority is to connect people with services, shelter, housing, family, treatment or care. We have a half-dozen different outreach teams engaged in this difficult but important work. Last year alone, the Denver Street Outreach Collaborative successfully placed 334 people in stable housing, and we prevented thousands more from becoming homeless in the first place.

“There are numerous public health, sanitation and safety hazards – disease, drug abuse, rodents, human waste and violence — that encampments pose to the people living in them and to the general public....

“We remain committed to standing up more and better shelters and affordable housing, increasing mental health care and substance abuse treatment, and delivering alternative options such as two tiny home villages and managed campsites."

Medication lost in homeless sweeps

During the sweeps, many homeless people lose important documents and medication that gets tossed by law enforcement. It often means the mentally ill don’t have what they need to stay healthy. “Everything I had was underneath by bed. My bed was my home,” one homeless man said. “How much money is being spent on this? Please help us.

“Please help us, please help us,” the man pleads again. “We need bathrooms, we need hand washing stations, and water.”

Another man asks the mayor if he is being treated differently because he does not have a college education. “The services that were offered to me were almost non-existent,” he said as his belongings were swept up by police. “I was in one of the worst positions I can remember. There’s no real help.”

The man takes a verbal swipe at Hancock, saying he’s just an “unhoused neighbor” who is much different from the mayor. “I just see a man who only cares about making himself more money,” the displaced homeless person said. “The way you guys make money is by keeping other people who don’t in that position.”

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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