When a Baker resident recently discovered a dead squirrel surrounded by a ring of feces placed in the alleyway behind Atomic Cowboy, right where people experiencing homelessness occasionally sleep, it seemed odd but perhaps coincidental. Then, a week later on June 25, residents discovered a crate with paper signs stating “HOMELESS DETERANT [sic] DEPOSITORY” and “PLEASE DONATE: dead squirrels, dog poop, broken glass and assorted rubbish.”
One of the neighbors on the block, Lizzy Stephan (who is also the executive director of New Era Colorado), says her roommate spotted both the dead squirrel/feces setup and the signs on the dog crate and took a picture of it.
“I was horrified to see the notes on the crate, and to see the details, like looking for glass,” says Stephan. “It clicked that the squirrel formation was probably intentional. We live in a wonderful neighborhood and everyone has been so friendly, so it was a shock to have this happen."
Two of the signs on the dog crate mention the name “Michael,” but Stephan says she doesn’t know who that is; no one in the house backing up to the spot in the alleyway where the dog crate was located is named Michael.
“But someone has to have had hatred in their heart [to do this],” Stephan says.
Beyond this incident, the Denver Police Department has noted that crimes against people experiencing homelessness in Denver — including assaults, robbery and rape — have increased by 42 percent during the past four years. During that time period, the aggregate number of chronically homeless individuals has also increased, according to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, to 1,596 people, as reported in 2018's point-in-time survey. When the crime statistics were released in January, homeless advocates blamed Denver’s urban camping-ban ordinance for forcing individuals insistent on not using the city’s shelters to seek unsafe and out-of-the-way locations to hide from police — places that not only increase the likelihood of being the victim of crime, but rile neighbors.
But neighbors using dead squirrels, feces and glass as a homeless deterrent?
“That’s just awful,” says Stephan.
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