Hancock Orders Police to Stop Taking Blankets, Tents From Homeless

Following a pair of viral videos that show Denver police officers taking away blankets and tents from homeless people as evidence of illegal camping, Mayor Michael Hancock announced on Saturday, December 10, that he has ordered officers to stop confiscating survival gear.

"We never intended to take the belongings that people need to keep warm. Therefore, I have directed Denver police to cease taking camping equipment, like tents and blankets, when enforcing the unauthorized camping ordinance through the end of April,” Hancock said.

According to a press release from the mayor's office:
The city [took] camping equipment as evidence from three individuals who were camping outside the City and County Building during a protest demonstration on Nov. 28. On that day, the city began notification of our camping ordinance at about 9:40 p.m. and worked to gain voluntary compliance over the following six hours with the demonstrators. These are the only individuals who have had blankets or tents taken. 
Here is a video of that action that has been viewed more than 350,000 times as of Saturday afternoon:

Hancock explains the reasons behind the city's enforcement of the urban camping ban, which has included handing out nine citations to seven individuals in the past two weeks, this way:

“As a city, we have a responsibility and moral obligation to protect the lives of our residents. Urban camping — especially during cold, wet weather — is dangerous, and we don’t want to see any lives lost on the streets when there are safe, warm places available for people to sleep at night. Every night, we have beds open for people to sleep, and every day we have safe places and resources to help people experiencing homelessness.”

Hancock's order also comes after the ACLU of Colorado sent him a letter on Friday decrying the police actions and asking that the city immediately suspend its urban camping ban, end its sweeps of the homeless, and concentrate on exploring alternative solutions.

The mayor's order does not fully suspend enforcement of the camping ban — it only prevents the confiscation of survival gear to be used as evidence —  but the administration maintains that the city and its partner organizations are working to put homeless people into housing. "Over the last 24 months, the city and our metro partners have placed 995 homeless people into housing," the release from Hancock's office states.

Over the past few months, coalitions that have formed around the issue of homelessness in Denver continue to call for an end to a police-first approach, which has landed the city in federal court defending itself against a class action lawsuit filed by attorney Jason Flores-Williams.

On Thursday, December 15, "Move Along to Where?" will be hosted by the Exdo Center and aims to explore alternative solutions to policing the homeless, including innovative housing solutions.

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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker