Denver, CO

Denver City Council criticized for sub-zero homeless sweep

David Heitz
Police supervise a sweep of homeless encampments conducted in sub-zero weather Thursday.Denver Homeless Out Loud

Advocates for people experiencing homelessness blasted the Denver City Council Monday for allowing the sweep of a homeless encampment in sub-zero weather.

The residents made their remarks during the public comment period before the regular council meeting. The statements were made virtually, as Denver has stopped meeting in person due to COVID-19. At times, the conversations became heated.

NewsBreak first reported on Thursday that city crews showed up for the sweep around 5:30 a.m. despite the frigid temperatures. City crews swept the area near Martin Luther King Park on the Central Park/Northeast Park Hill border.

A backhoe scooped up tents, and workers ordered people living in recreational vehicles to move Thursday morning. By Friday, all the RVs had moved, but not far. Most still sat just feet away from their original spots. But by the weekend, only one recreational vehicle and one camper remained.

Campers given seven days' notice

The city, per court order, gave the encampment dwellers seven days' written notice before the sweep. Representatives of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said they offered anyone displaced hotel and motel vouchers and/or a bed at a shelter.

But advocates said city workers did not offer hotel and motel vouchers Thursday. That sentiment was repeated Monday.

Resident Mary Anna Thompson said people lost blankets and camping gear in the sweep that they used to stay warm. Thompson said the city council and mayor have declared "a war on the poor in Denver."

Thompson and others lamented the city's response to the homelessness epidemic, even though the city has seen many recent housing successes. For example, the city housed more than 500 in less than 100 days, the mayor's office announced last month.

Luxury apartments sit empty while the homeless shiver

Some advocates questioned why luxury apartment developers get tax breaks and incentives to build while people live on the streets.

"Why are apartments sitting empty?" Thompson asked. "Have you ever seen individuals freeze to death, stripped of their cold-weather gear by police?"

She said the pandemic is worse now than when the hotel/motel voucher program began last year.

Jesse Lashawn Paris, who describes himself as the next mayor of Denver, said the city only offered those displaced Thursday a bed in a shelter where they could catch COVID.

Many people experiencing homelessness choose not to stay in shelters because they have a partner or a pet. The shelters are not co-ed, and pets are not allowed.

'It is in your backyard'

"Quit gambling with people's lives and do the right thing for once," Thompson told the council.

"Take the initiative to house more people," Paris added. "For those who say not in my backyard, it is in your backyard."

Resident Brandy Majors told the council members they had done a horrible job. "Is it a humane thing for people to come throw you out of your house in sub-zero weather, make you moved down the block and harass you the whole time?"

The council does not respond to comments made during the public comment period to maximize time for public remarks.

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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 local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO

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