Denver Planning Sweep of Large Homeless Encampment in RiNo

The City of Denver will soon sweep this large encampment in RiNo.EXPAND
The City of Denver will soon sweep this large encampment in RiNo.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
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Denver officials are planning a November 30 sweep of a large homeless encampment near the South Platte River in RiNo.

The city will be clearing out the encampment to "address deteriorating conditions and encumbrances in the public right-of-way," according to Nancy Kuhn, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, who notes that "outreach teams have been visiting the areas in advance to connect people to services, shelter and housing."

The city's cleanup plans come not long after the Denver Police Department began investigating an apparent homicide that took place at the encampment on November 17.

The sprawling encampment is located at 29th Street and Arkins Court, and wraps around a large, fenced-off parcel of empty land. Staff at the neighboring Salvation Army Crossroads homeless shelter estimate that between 150 and 200 people are currently staying there.

With so many people in tents, Cathy Alderman of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless questions the city's strategy of sweeping the encampment. "They're just going to set up somewhere else and cause that disruption both to them and to the next neighborhood. It feels very whack-a-mole," she says.

And Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, whose district covers the encampment location, expresses major opposition to the planned sweep. “I continue to believe the sweeps are inhumane and a violation of poor people’s constitutional rights," she says. "At a time when we are in severe outbreak mode and are urging people to maintain physical distancing, the city will be shuffling along hundreds of humans and exposing them — and the city workers who are forced to execute the sweeps — to potential virus exposure. I am disgusted by the lack of humanity and lack of effort to implement reasonable solutions that bring every resident in the city into a safe and quarantined environment."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been advising municipalities to not disperse homeless encampments unless housing is available and going unused, so as not to spread COVID-19.

But in its response to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District of Colorado against the city regarding the sweeps, Denver attorneys have argued that the CDC provided city health officials with guidance that justifies sweeps. However, attorneys who are suing the city on behalf of Denver Homeless Out Loud and a number of homeless individuals caught up in the sweeps argue that Denever is purposely misinterpreting what the CDC wrote in an email.

Homeless service providers in Denver have been generally opposed to sweeps, saying that they do little to actually address issues contributing to someone being homeless, and may actually push people further away from services.

As part of that opposition to sweeps, service providers plan to open two safe-camping sites at churches in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in the first weeks of December. The sites will have toilets and sinks, in addition to mental health care and housing and job placement services.

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