Denver, CO

Sick, elderly man swept from Denver encampment in freezing temperatures, HAND reports

David Heitz
Gary Ortiz was swept from a homeless encampment in freezing temperatures so cold his catheter bag froze.Photo byHousekeys Action Network Denver

An elderly man was swept from a Denver homeless encampment in temperatures so cold his catheter bag froze, according to Housekeys Action Network Denver, a homeless advocacy group known as HAND.

Gary Ortiz describes what happened in a video made by HAND and posted to Instagram. “This catheter on my leg, it freezes, it’s like a big chunk of ice,” he said. “I’m miserable.”

When the video was made several days ago, Ortiz said he was living under a bridge at 7th and Lipan. He had moved there after being swept in the cold from a previous spot. Ortiz had been throwing up the day of the sweep, he said. He said he lost his teeth, his eyeglasses and his tent, among other things. But he said he yelled to the sweep workers, “'Take everything, that’s what you’re going to do anyway.' And they sure did.”

Homeless shelters uninviting

Ortiz explains how he is treated poorly at homeless shelters because he has a dog. For that reason, he will not stay at a shelter. HAND issued a call for help for Ortiz on social media and announced Saturday they collected more than $1,800 in 24 hours. That’s enough to keep Ortiz in a hotel with his dog for a few weeks. It pays for food as well, HAND said. Those who wish to donate to HAND can do so via PayPal. Make a note if you want to specify help for Ortiz.

“Thank you so much to all for supporting Gary in his desperate need! We continue to ask the mayor’s office and service providers for any housing options for Gary,” HAND explained in a news release. “More time in the hotel will hopefully help give time for some long term housing to come through. Vulnerable people like Gary must be prioritized for housing. Being visible should not be how we prioritize people for hotel options.”

Most of the people moved into housing during the mayor’s successful House1000 campaign came from large, highly visible encampments, not ones like Ortiz’s. In the Instagram video, Ortiz explains that the city did not offer him shelter or services.

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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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