Man Dispersed From Capitol Encampment: "Everybody Thinks We're Dirty Rat People"

This encampment was swept by city officials on January 15.
This encampment was swept by city officials on January 15.
Evan Semón
Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

On January 15, city officials dispersed homeless individuals who had been staying at an encampment on the outskirts of Lincoln Park, which is in front of the Colorado Capitol, citing a rat infestation that officials suspected was coming from discarded food. The city stressed that the rat infestation was a danger not only to people walking by the park, but also to those sleeping in it.

Still, people who had been sleeping in the park say the city intentionally linked them to the rats.

"Everybody thinks we're dirty rat people. That's fucked up," says a man who calls himself Possum, who had been staying at the encampment before the city's action.

Even though officials at the sweep were encouraging residents to move into homeless shelters, Possum and others decided to move a few blocks south, setting up tents on the northern edge of Westword's parking lot on West Tenth Avenue.

Possum and his friend Joshua were relaxing outside of Westword's office today, January 17. "It's a hard life out here. It's not easy," says Joshua, a Colorado native.

Joshua and Possum describe a more relaxed life in the few weeks after the city's urban camping ban was declared unconstitutional in late December. "My first thought was, 'It took ’em long enough,'" Joshua says.

Although the camping ban was declared unconstitutional by outgoing Denver County Court Judge Johnny Barajas, the law is still on the books. Attorneys for the City of Denver filed a notice that they'd appeal the ruling, meaning that the law, which criminalizes using tents or sleeping bags for shelter on public property, was automatically reinstated.

The Denver Police Department, which had stopped enforcing the camping ban for a few weeks, is restarting its enforcement tonight, according to Ryan Luby, a spokesperson for the Denver City Attorney's Office.

"We're like public enemy number one. They're going to war with us," says Possum. "I'm scared of the police."

City officials stressed at the cleanup that their dispersal of the encampment at the Capitol, which involved police telling occupants they had to leave, wasn't a camping ban enforcement action, but was instead addressing public-health risks. The city has a plethora of other laws that it can use to disperse people camping on public land, including health codes and right-of-way ordinances.

The camping ban is facing a second challenge from Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, who is shopping a proposal that would repeal the 2020 law. Getting enough support is a tall order, though, since CdeBaca will need nine votes to ensure that the bill can survive an inevitable veto from Mayor Michael Hancock.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.