Denver Sweeps Encampment Outside Four Winds American Indian Council

Denver authorities swept a homeless encampment outside Four Winds American Indian Council on August 31.
Denver authorities swept a homeless encampment outside Four Winds American Indian Council on August 31. Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
Early this morning, Denver authorities and contract workers from Environmental Hazmat Services swept a homeless encampment located next to the Four Winds American Indian Council community center at West Fifth Avenue and Bannock Street.

Having already fenced off the encampment of around twenty individuals, by dawn crews were dismantling tents, throwing out trash and collecting belongings left behind for storage.

A dozen or so Denver police officers were present during the sweep; so were a few dozen protesters, who stood outside the fencing and shouted anti-cop statements. At about 6 a.m., as contract workers attempted to put up more fencing, a crowd of protesters pulled at it. The workers were eventually able to get the fencing back up.

And by 6:15 a.m., the tension had gone down significantly. Ana Cornelius from Denver Homeless Out Loud played a drum that she'd brought and sang a Native American song while the sweep continued. Nearby, homeless advocates served breakfast to those present for the sweep.

The Four Winds American Indian Council had been providing drinking water and electricity to those staying in the encampment, like Sharon Barth, a 51-year-old Native American woman who felt drawn to stay by the community center because it's "Native-owned."

Barth and other residents of the encampment, as well as leadership from the council, had attempted to negotiate with the administration of Mayor Michael Hancock on August 30, asking the city to cancel the sweep and to provide a "Native-preference" safe outdoor space for those staying at the encampment.

"Mr. Hancock walked with the Natives before for Columbus Day," Barth said. "He should understand what we're going through." Native individuals are significantly overrepresented in metro Denver's homeless population.

But Hancock declined to cancel the sweep. And while nearby land has been identified for a possible safe-camping site, there's no timeline for when it could be up and running.

Numerous high-ranking city officials attended the sweep, including Hancock deputy chief of staff Evan Dreyer; Marley Bordovsky, an attorney from the Denver City Attorney's Office; and Armando Saldate of the Denver Department of Public Safety.

Saldate said that the city and service providers had been performing outreach to the encampment for weeks, not just in the few days preceding the sweep. Aside from services, the City of Denver also offered residents of the encampment fourteen-day motel vouchers.

Denver has numerous laws that the city cites when clearing out homeless encampments, including a camping ban and a public right-of-way ordinance. Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advising against sweeps unless individual housing is available, Denver officials have continued sweeping homeless encampments throughout most of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.