Denver, CO

Residents decry ‘open-air drug scenes’ in Denver

David Heitz
Photo byMikail Duran/Unsplash

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Alleging Denver’s streets are rife with “open-air drug scenes,” several residents asked the City Council Monday not to allow a so-called safe injection site at 8th and Lincoln streets.

The state legislature recently voted to allow the sites, also known as overdose prevention centers. David Howard blasted the concept, saying instead Denver’s addicts should receive intervention, treatment and recovery. “Please be careful of legal injection sites in Denver,” he said, saying they lead to “filth, despair, (and) death.”

Howard said if the city does approve a safe injection a site, it should be located near the Smith Road homeless services campus. “Do not permit a drug use site at 8th and Lincoln,” he said, noting it would destroy the Capitol Hill and Golden Triangle neighborhoods.

The Harm Reduction Action Center, a needle exchange for injection drug users, is at 112 E. 8th Ave.

Prevention, intervention, treatment, recovery

Howard and several others made their comments during the general public comment session at Monday’s City Council meeting. Those who spoke against the legal injection sites repeated the refrain, “prevention, intervention, treatment, recovery.”

“People who use drugs are drawn to these free injection sites because they know they will find other drug enthusiasts and suppliers there,” Howard said.

A resident who identified herself as Amy Sue with Citizens for a Safe and Clean Denver railed against the idea of an overdose prevention center. “Open-air drug scenes create violence,” she said.

Housing First, harm reduction

Amy Sue blasted approaches to managing addition such as Housing First and harm reduction. Housing First is the philosophy that if a person experiencing homelessness gets housing without conditions first, addiction can be addressed later. Harm Reduction is the notion that even if drug use can be reduced but not stopped, progress is being made.

Resident Craig Arfsten said policies such as these are “all about enabling people and allowing them to continue their addiction and self-destructive behavior.” He said Denver, like Portland, will continue to rot at its core and residents will flee for the suburbs if policies aren’t changed.

“Does Housing First lead to recovery? No,” Arfsten said. He also blasted a fact sheet recently put out by Colorado Coalition for the Homelessness that he said, “divided and polarized the community,” adding, “Where are the fresh ideas to move people off the street and into treatment?”

‘Dirty Denver’

Virginia Rutledge said she now refers to “Dirty Denver” when talking about the mile-high city, calling it “a trash heap filled with mentally unwell addicts who are allowed to break the law with impunity and terrorize the citizenry.”

She said people living on the streets often fight with each other and sometimes are “fighting imaginary demons and devils.” She said compassion for these people is waning because neighbors have become hardened by what they see and hear. “It kills a little compassion and empathy every day.”

Some support legal injection site

People also spoke Monday in support of the overdose prevention center. “I love people who use drugs and I want them to stay alive,” said District 3 resident Kate Crow. She said 8th and Lincoln is the right site for an overdose prevention center.

Brandy Majors shot back at Rutledge. She said people experiencing homelessness often wail in pain because they are cold. She also said those who spoke against the legal injection site “are fearmongering,” adding the sites are run professionally.

“Craig, I feel like I should put a tent on your patio,” Majors said in reference to Arfsten’s remarks.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

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