Homeless Possessions Trashed in Police Sweeps Ripped by the ACLU

Update: Yesterday morning, we told you about City of Denver plans to clear out members of the homeless community staying near Samaritan House; see our previous coverage below.

The actions were roundly criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union.

In a statement on view below in its entirety, ACLU Colorado executive director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley said that the answer to the "discomfort and frustration" caused by the homeless situation "cannot be increased criminalization and draconian sweeps that push away and attempt to hide impoverished people out of sight."

Prior to the move, Denver Homeless Out Loud, a local advocacy organization, tied the timing of the sweeps to the Colorado Rockies baseball team.

"It could be said the city is not working not on a timeline... but a deadline," the post continues. "Wasn't something similar done to the homeless community in preparation for the Super Bowl in San Francisco not too long ago?

By the afternoon, the sweep had begun in earnest, with members of the Denver Police Department standing by as city workers tossed out belongings found in the area of 24th and Lawrence.

Among those on hand to document the proceedings was 7News reporter Jennifer Kovaleski.

Here's a video she tweeted.

The station notes that police and crews didn't limit their efforts to a single area.

An example is documented in this tweet from reporter Jason Gruenauer.

How long will the homeless stay out of these areas?

If past is prelude, not long. A DHOL statement quoted below notes that following a sweep in December, folks returned to the area.

This suggests that until a more permanent solution is found, such sweeps may become regular, semi-annual events.

Here's the aforementioned ACLU statement, followed by our previous coverage.

Statement of ACLU of Colorado Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley on Downtown Denver Homeless Sweeps

“The ACLU of Colorado is deeply concerned by the City of Denver’s approach to the visible presence of people who are homeless downtown, including today’s sweep and seizure of personal possessions in the areas directly adjacent to the Rescue Mission, St. Francis Center, and Samaritan House.

“Since the last sweep of the same area on a frigid, snowy December night last year, the number of people trying to exist and survive without housing in Denver has continued to grow. Denver residents are understandably discomforted and frustrated by the sight of so many poor and vulnerable people living in extreme poverty. The answer to that discomfort and frustration cannot be increased criminalization and draconian sweeps that push away and attempt to hide impoverished people out of sight. Criminalization and displacement are short-term approaches that exacerbate rather than solve root causes of poverty and homelessness.

“People who are homeless deserve the right to rest, the right to move freely in public spaces, and the fundamental right to be secure in their personal belongings, especially when those belongings are all that they have in the world.”

Original post, 8:17 a.m. March 8: Today, members of Denver's homeless population are girding themselves for promised police sweeps near Samaritan House — Park Avenue, Lawrence, Broadway and surrounding blocks.

At this writing, no reports about forced relocation or confiscation of property have surfaced.

But yesterday morning, as noted by the advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL), the City of Denver posted signs letting the homeless know they had 24 hours to remove their items and get going — although to where, it's not clear.

And that 24 hours is up.

In a news release, DHOL estimates that 75 people currently live near where the sweeps are planned and "many hundred more stay in the area during the day.

"People who have made the best home they can out of tarps and sleeping bags and, if they are lucky, tents will be forced to leave and/or have this survival gear taken to a far-off location with some vague promise of retrieving it from the police — if they can jump through all the hoops," the release continues. "Even if the survival gear, IDs and valuable belongings are retrieved, the city says they cannot return to this area to sleep with any cover."

As noted by 7News, Denver officials maintain that there are enough shelter beds in the community to accommodate everyone living or staying near Samaritan House.

But DHOL disputes this assertion.

"The City lists just under 1,500 emergency shelter beds and mats," the release states. "The 2015 Point In Time Count, known to be an undercount, counted 3,456 people experiencing homelessness in Denver city proper on one night.

"If you do the math, that is nine people for every four shelter beds. Bottom line — if every homeless person sleeping on the streets of Denver tried to stay in the shelters tonight, there would not be room."

Efforts to address the current situation legislatively have not come to fruition: As we've reported, the so-called Homeless Bill of Rights recently failed to get out of committee at the state House of Representatives.

Now, police are moving forward with their first major sweep since December, when homeless individuals speaking with our Chris Walker say their belongings were tossed out without warning.

"Roughly 100 people were kicked out, belongings thrown straight in the trash, and told if they returned they would be arrested," DHOL maintains, adding, "Many folk did leave the area to other more hidden outdoor spots, but many came back and set back up in the same general area."

Denver Homeless Out Loud has demanded "that Mayor Michael Hancock put an immediate stop to the sweeps."

But there's no indication he will do so.

Here's a 7News piece from earlier today, featuring images from the scene.

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