Denver, CO

Police create tension at encampment sweeps, homeless advocates say

David Heitz
Photo byDenver Homeless Out Loud

Homelessness again took center stage at Monday’s City Council meeting in Denver. People living in an encampment near the Governor’s Mansion at 8th and Logan moved Monday and Tuesday as the city “de-commissioned” the makeshift camping spot.

“When I arrived today there were over 10 officers on site, many of them with their vehicles puffing and polluting the air in this location,” Loma told the council Monday. “What a great waste of resources to have 10 guns at the decommissioning of an encampment when we have a relationship with the tenants being moved.”

For the past week, outreach workers and the mayor have visited the encampments. Most of its residents have been offered shelter in a Denver hotel.

Cleanup company wants police protection

Loma said Environmental Hazmat Services, which contracts with the city for the cleanups, “doesn’t manage to take and clean the trash set up in a location unless they have an armed guard with them, a full-time officer on duty. You don’t need to have a gun to take out the garbage.”

Homeless advocates such as Loma and Housekeys Action Network Denver say the police only serve to escalate tensions at encampment sweeps. Police serve as a stark reminder to people experiencing homelessness that their very existence is sometimes considered illegal.

Some had no place to go

Loma pointed out that while the city touted that most people being swept from the encampment had a place to go, not everyone did. “I was at the big move this morning and I was there yesterday, and I experienced people who didn’t have a plan,” he said. “Now rumor has it that one of the governor’s balls or events at the Governor’s Mansion is the reason the timeline went from 28 or 30 days of moving people to decommissioning a camp in seven days. The people who are being moved don’t have relationships with the care workers and the industry that was just mentioned to have a plan.”

According to the mayor’s office, the Governor’s Mansion had nothing to do with the sweep.

How will success be measured?

Janet Cornell spoke before Loma. “I applaud the mayor’s efforts to house 1,000 people by Dec. 31,” she said, adding that her brother died while homeless. “But how will we measure that success? What’s the report card? They need someone who is going to help them get back into society. Living in a, the mayor calls them tiny homes, there are no kitchens, there’s no bathrooms. These people need not just a handout but a hand up.”

Cornell wondered how the mayor’s office will measure success. “Is it 90 days (out of homelessness), is it 120 days, is it two years, is it five years, what’s the report card here? Because you know what, $245 million is a lot of dollars and we need to have a report card on how that money has been spent and how successful it will be.”

Will micro-communities breed crime?

Although several people spoke about how people experiencing homelessness are mistreated, one woman said homeless people have created a nuisance, are involved in illegal activities, and should be jailed.

Sarah Sanders, who described herself as a “disgruntled resident,” predicted the mayor’s plan to place micro-communities of pallet shelters all over Denver will be a disaster. She said she has talked to neighbors of tiny homes in Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle and they have said the camps breed addiction and crime.

City officials including the mayor’s office have repeatedly quoted a local study that shows safe outdoor spaces do not increase crime in the neighborhoods where they are located. “They are presented to the public as a safe place for people to get off the streets,” Sanders said. “They are touted for reducing crime rates, open drug use and a cure for the plethora of other issues facing our city.”

Micro-communities like ‘sovereign countries’

She argued the truth is the safe outdoor spaces are a beacon for crime, but “They handle crime internally as though the tiny home villages are sovereign countries handling their own penal code. This is unacceptable.”

Colorado Village Collaborative did not respond to an email seeking comment. This story will be updated if the author hears back.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at community newspapers in Southern California 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 proof that people can rebound from even severe mental illness with proper treatment. 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 in the Mile High City. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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