Commentary

Op-Ed: An Open Letter to Mayor Hancock About the Homeless Sweeps

Michael Emery Hecker
This encampment in RiNo was swept in late November.
This letter, delivered to Mayor Michael Hancock today, February 24, was signed by more than a hundred health-care professionals and students at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Dear Mayor Hancock,

As students from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and health-care professionals, we join the Denver homeless community and its allies in calling for an immediate end to the sweeps of outdoor encampments and the positive reallocation of resources toward safer living alternatives. Your office has defended the sweeps by arguing that they are necessary to protect the health of the general public. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends against the removal of individuals who are living in encampments, as clearing encampments can cause disbursement throughout the city and increase the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus. Additionally, it is less likely that COVID-19 will be spread in outdoor encampments, as one local investigation has shown rates of COVID-19 infection were 9 percent in surveyed indoor shelters and only 2 percent in outdoor encampments.

There are valid concerns about issues with human waste, garbage accumulation, drug use, needles and crime. However, disbursement of encampments without placement in housing does not prevent human waste production, unsafe needle disposal or the market for drugs; it simply moves them to another location. In contrast, providing resources at these encampments could ameliorate health problems through trash removal, safe sharps disposal, security and, as the CDC recommends, improved sanitation by providing access to toilets and hand-washing stations with adequate hand hygiene materials (soap, hand sanitizer with 60 percent alcohol, drying materials and bath tissue) at encampments.


The sweeps of encampments are ineffective and discriminatory. The Boulder branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in an open letter to Boulder City Council, points out that camping bans have never been an effective means of addressing homelessness and that sweeps make it harder for aid organizations to provide vital services. This is even more significant during the pandemic, and as the number of persons experiencing homelessness continues to increase. The Colorado Village Collaborative’s open statement to Aurora's mayor, Mike Coffman, described the relationship between racism and homelessness; this statement references the Metro Denver Homelessness Initiative’s 2020 Point In Time Report, which highlights that Black and Indigenous peoples are homeless in disproportionate numbers in Denver.

As health-care students and professionals, we acknowledge and stand behind the facts as outlined by these organizations, and we believe that the information shared by these community organizations should be enough to end the sweeps. Yet they continue. As patient advocates and stewards of public health, we stand with our community in demanding an end to practices and laws that incite and fuel inequities in health care and harm our patients. It is incumbent upon us as future physicians to make our stance on this issue clear: Sweeps of homeless encampments are harmful to the most vulnerable in our community and dangerous for public health.

Sweeps of encampments harm our patients. They confiscate and destroy property (including prescription medications and legal identification needed for accessing medical services), they cause trauma that can exacerbate substance use and mental-health struggles, and they destabilize lives. The CDC asserts: “Health inequities have persisted across generations because of structural policies and practices that have systematically limited health access and opportunities." We assert that sweeps of homeless encampments are one such structural policy — a tool of systemic oppression and a means by which health inequities are formed and sustained.

The sweeps do not solve homelessness, nor do they protect the public health. They displace vulnerable members of our community and cultivate a fertile soil for health disparities. We believe that Denver, our representatives and our collective community should do better. We call on you, Mr. Mayor, to end these sweeps during this pandemic and beyond. We call on you to rapidly expand your support of community partners that are working towards brave and creative solutions to provide those experiencing homelessness with opportunities for safe housing and health equity. We call on you to create more safe outdoor spaces and immediately open more emergency and overflow shelters. We call on you to make Denver a city at the forefront of eliminating health disparities and leading the charge of health equity for all.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Sarah Bardwell | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Kathryn Havranek | MD/MPH Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Mackenzie Garcia | MD/MPH Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Genna Bonfiglio | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Riannon Christa Atwater | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Courtney Olson | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Lorena Ramirez-Renteria | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Celina Sarangi | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Melissa Johnson | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Avalon Swenson | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Megan Wade | MS, MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Amelia J. Davis | MD/MPH Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Madelyn Mendlen | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Carson Platnick | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Rouna Mohran | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Jennifer Robinson | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Margaret M. Tomcho| MD, MPH | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Patricia M. Tomcho | RN, MSN | Retired From Department of Veterans Affairs
Melissa Smith | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Taylor Wand | MD | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Thy Nguyen | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Mike Levy | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Sarah Stella | MD
Grace Katzenson | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Troy Kincaid | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Anandi Ramaswami | MD | Denver Health
Vimal Jhaveri | MD | Presbyterian St. Luke’s
Carlos M. Jaquez | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Lily Kong | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Rachael Weesner | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Chloe Briney | MD/PhD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Corey Walsh | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Kyle McDaniel | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Beza Jobira | MPH | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Lauren Carpenter | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Timothy Kelly | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Alexandra Lauren | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Courtney O'Rourke | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Zainab Zullali | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Brigit Noon | MD | Denver Health Residency in Emergency Medicine
David N Flitter | MD | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Nicholas Cleland | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Sophia Sugar | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Matthew Spear | MPH | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Catherine Ard | MD | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Saori Haigo | MD/PhD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Katherine C Branche | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Megan Brown | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Kira Grush | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
William Mundo |MPH, MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Gregory J. Misky | MD | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Samantha J Conner | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Ian Lawrence | Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Joshua Abolarin | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Rosa Malloy Post | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Eniola Ogundipe | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Oluwatosin Adebiyi | MD/MPH Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine/UC Berkeley, School of Public Health
David Sheneman | MPH | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Ignasis Gutierrez-Beasley | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Julie Knoeckel | MD | University of Colorado School of Medicine
David Manuel Sabio | MD/MPH Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Emily Holcom | MPH Student | Colorado School of Public Health
Mattie Cassaday | Colorado School of Public Health
Dayana Leyva | CHES | Colorado School of Public Health
Michael Gallagher | MPH Student | Colorado School of Public Health
Casey Connolly | MPH | Colorado School of Public Health
Amanda F. Tompkins | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Madelyn Lensing | MPH Student | Colorado School of Public Health
BreAnna Teeters | MPH
Deanna Kapitanec | MPH Student | Colorado School of Public Health
Devin Miller | MPH | Colorado School of Public Health
Emily Billingsley | RN, MPH Student | Colorado School of Public Health
Kyria Brown | MSW, MPH
Courtney Fullwood | MPH Student
Julia Thorne | MPH | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Megan Kunkel | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Eman Mesgina | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Reilly Quist | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Yasmine Dakhama | Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Richard Nakano | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Rhianna Rubner | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Nikki Bloch | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Gabriel Yepes | Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Gavriel Roda | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Julia Nyiro | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Haydar Ibrahim | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Laurel Darragh | MD/PhD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Anthony Scott | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Lillian H Goodman | MD/MPH Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Darean Hunt | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Lauren Heery | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Katherine Myers | MPH | Colorado School of Public Health
Erin Bredenberg | MD | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Thomas Gray | MPH/MSW Student | Colorado School of Public Health
Kristina Brandveen | MPH Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Juan Carlos Franco | Student | Colorado School of Public Health
Elsa Alaswad | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Kati Turner | MPH, MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Nicholas Bianchina | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Madeline Huey | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Cleveland Piggott | MD | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Vivian Rajeswaren | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Ryan Friedman | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Carley Little | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Brenna Cameron | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Medha Gudavalli | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Gerald Yeung | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Monica Patten | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Jordan Elyse Andersen | Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Katie Martin | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Arman Saeedi | MPH | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Dana Yabroudi | Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Mary Fuhlbrigge | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Jeremy Long | MD/MPH | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Sanju Garimella | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Hope Rietcheck | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Lillie Toaspern | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Vivian Rajeswaren | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Ellen E. Sarcone | MD
Ann Mackey | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Dylan Herman | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Jordan Rice | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Kelly Zavaleta | MPH | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Abigail Bryant | Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Gwynn Marsh-Armstrong | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Walter Taylor | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Maggie McGing | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Valerie Gao | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Jamie Pospishil | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Lillian H Goodman | MD/MPH Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Josue Estrella | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Leah Thompson | FNP-Student | University of Colorado College of Nursing
Alexandra Sotiros-Lowry | MS | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Jamaluddin Moloo | MD/MPH | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Desirae Martinez | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Kristina Sandquist | MD/MPH Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Elaina Van Patten | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Christina Cheung | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Megan Wade| MS, MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Emily Paton | MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Hayaat Ahmed | MHA Student | Children’s Hospital Colorado
Christine Schlais | PA Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine
Filiberto Morales | MPH, MD Student | University of Colorado School of Medicine

The people listed above signed this letter as individuals, and are not expressing an official position of their affiliated institutions.


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