Homeless Campers Stand Their Ground on Third Day of Police Activity
On Tuesday, November 15, homeless individuals were asked to contain their belongings and temporarily move them so city crews could clean the area at Park Avenue West and Lawrence Street.
As snow began to fall on Thursday, at least two dozen homeless individuals located within a one block radius of the Denver Rescue Mission, at the intersection of Park Avenue West and Lawrence Street, remained camped out on the sidewalks.
They remained despite not being allowed to cover themselves with tarps or tents, even in the snow. "The cops said that we can't have any tarps over our head," explained a man who identified himself as Jason. He sat cross-legged on a blanket late Thursday morning as snow flurried around him and his belongings, hands tucked into his sweatshirt pockets to keep them warm.
Jason and the handful of homeless individuals around him aren't only staying on the street because they are tired of being pushed into shelters (or can't check in with spouses of the opposite sex), but because they want to fight the city's homeless sweeps and camping ban.
They have been making a stand at Park and Lawrence since the city began a large cleanup operation there on Tuesday, November 15.
So far, police officers and city crews have temporarily displaced people while sweeping the area for trash and moving some belongings to a city-run storage facility, but they have not permanently moved homeless out of the area, unlike previous sweeps, like the one in March.
Some homeless individuals and advocates that are treating the situation as a stand-off have, so far, declared the results a "win."
"We're holding the block...if it's not a sweep, it's a win," says Terese Howard of Denver Homeless Out Loud.
But it's not clear for how long they'll hold the block.
When Westword asked the city for its plans, and what it thinks about advocates classifying the situation as a "win," spokeswoman Julie Smith at the Department of Human Services responded with the following statement:
"I am saddened that anyone would characterize it in that way. No one wins when people are left to live in inhumane, unsanitary and unsafe conditions. We want more for the people of our city. We will continue to work to connect people to shelter, housing and other resources while keeping the public right of way clean and free of encumbrances."
Even while allowing campers to remain on the sidewalk, Denver is keeping on the police pressure. And unlike the first, well-documented police encounter that took place on Tuesday morning, there has been less media present each time officers show up.
PJ D'Amico, executive director of the Buck Foundation, has been one of the few outsiders monitoring the situation, acting as a citizen journalist. Using Facebook Live, he has been streaming video from Lawrence Street since Tuesday, frequently interviewing homeless individuals, and speaking with police officers to urge restraint. A few of his Facebook Live videos are included in this post.
D'Amico says that officers are likely to return Thursday night or Friday morning, and there may be resistance if they try to force the homeless to move from the block.
When Westword caught up with D'Amico late Thursday morning, he gave us a brief update.
"The escalation is getting severe," he says. "I haven't slept in three days which means that [the homeless] haven't slept in three days. There was almost a riot this morning when a guy was ready to beat the shit out of a police officer...later, the [police] arrested a man who must have had a warrant out and it was horrible. Four cops on this guy for doing nothing.
"It's getting violent...something is going to happen tomorrow, without question."
Check back tomorrow for an update.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.