Denver, CO

Critic says meth addicts, not homeless live in Denver's tent cities

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) People who live in tents on the street disgrace the homeless, a man told Denver City Council members Tuesday.

Craig Arfsten, president of Citizens for a Safe and Clean Denver, said the people should not be classified as homeless. His organization's website claims the encampments are meth sub-cultures where drug use is normalized.

"These people are meth addicts," Arfsten told the council during the public comment period.

"Calling urban campers homeless is an insult to people who are down on their luck and seriously need a helping hand."

Safe and Clean Denver claims shelter is available for all 5,000 of Denver's homeless, but most don't want help. However, Denver's shelters don't accept couples or people with animals, reasons many people cite for not staying in them.

Denver Homeless Out Loud, a homeless advocacy group, takes the opposite stance.

Denver emphasizes harm reduction, Housing First

Arfsten said Douglas County Commissioner George Teal asked him to speak to that body about Denver's response to homelessness. Arfsten said he would tell them Denver bases its approach on "fake sciences" like harm reduction and Housing First.

He said so-called Safe Outdoor Spaces, legal tent villages for people experiencing homelessness run by Colorado Village Collaborative, is just Denver's way of "kicking the can down the road."

He said the city ignores residents' pleas to do something to eliminate encampments. "Your current solution is not working," he told the council.

Harm reduction and Housing First are philosophies that consider drug use a given among some people. Some people experiencing homelessness previously interviewed by NewsBreak have said they didn't start using drugs until they became homeless. They have said they use stimulants to stay alert for their safety. Many said they stay awake because they fear the police will hassle them about sleeping. Others use drugs or alcohol to keep warm, they have explained.

Harm reduction focuses on efforts by healthcare providers to encourage people to reduce drug use if they won't abstain. "Harm reduction organizations incorporate a spectrum of strategies that meet people 'where they are' on their own terms, and may serve as a pathway to additional prevention, treatment, and recovery services, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Homeless woman says she's treated like 'scumbag'

Also Tuesday, a homeless woman said her name is Unique and discussed how people treat the homeless.

"We should not be treated like a scumbag," she said. "Nobody has the right to look down on us because of our circumstances. They never look at things from our perspective, and they've never been in this situation. Circumstances do not define us."

Arfsten, meanwhile, said Denver's policies have allowed encampments to flourish. "Denver doesn't care about its residents."

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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.

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