Denver, CO

Eradicating Denver's homeless situation could increase the rate of deaths among unhoused 'drug users'


It may seem like a continuous cleanup of Denver's homeless encampments could increase the rate of deaths among those who use 'drugs,' according to a report.
A homeless encampment stock photo.Photo byLevi Meir ClancyonUnsplash

A report suggests that a continuous cleanup of Denver's homeless encampments may increase the mortality rate among drug users.

According to a new study published recently, routinely wiping down homeless encampments in Denver and other large American cities could lead to an increase in fatalities.

This will roughly be 25% in the number of deaths among unhoused people who use injection drugs over a period of ten years.

In recent years, encampment sweeps in Denver, which city officials prefer to refer to as cleanups rather than encampment sweeps, have been the subject of demonstrations, litigation, and legal settlements throughout the city.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association focused on injecting drug users who lack stable housing. Using a probability-based model, the study predicted potential outcomes for this population from 2019 to 2028.

The study examined weekly outcomes such as hospitalization for injection-related infections, prescription medicines like methadone, and overdose deaths.

The findings revealed that unsheltered individuals at risk of continuous involuntary displacement faced a 15.6% to 24.4% increase in their projected death rate over the 10-year span.

Unsheltered homelessness has been a major concern in Denver, as demonstrated by the defeat of a 2019 proposition to lift the city's urban camping ban and stop sweeps.

Despite more than 8% of voters casting their ballots against the proposition, it was soundly defeated. The problem of unsheltered homelessness, including encampments on the city streets, has become a central topic in Denver's mayoral contest for 2023.

One potential solution is using micro-communities, which would allow entire encampments to relocate together, maintaining the social links and support systems they have developed while living on the streets.

However, the ideal outcome of ending sweeps still depends on individuals being provided with a more desirable option than living on the streets, which could require moving them against their will.

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