Opponents of Sweeps Banding Together in Town Hall Today

Opposition to homeless encampment sweeps in Denver is growing.
Opposition to homeless encampment sweeps in Denver is growing. Evan Semón
As the City of Denver continues to clear out homeless encampments during the pandemic, a diverse collection of activists have banded together to rally against the sweeps.

"These very influential groups are all standing together in solidarity for a termination of these traumatic displacements or so-called sweeps of encampments of people experiencing homelessness," says Jeff Campbell, the head of Emancipation Theater Company in Denver, who has recently been involved with homeless advocacy through a project called From Allies to Abolitionists.

Campbell will be joined at a virtual town hall at 4 p.m. today, December 28, by representatives from Denver Homeless Out Loud and All In Denver, among other groups, during which they will call on Mayor Michael Hancock to stop the sweeps.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that municipalities not sweep encampments during the pandemic so as to avoid possibly spreading COVID-19. But Denver has continued to sweep encampments, both large and small, in 2020.

Aside from demanding an end to the sweeps, those participating in the town hall will also be calling for the creation of more safe outdoor spaces, for the city to provide bathrooms and sanitation resources at existing encampments, and for the Denver auditor to investigate how much sweeps cost the city.

Denver currently has two safe outdoor spaces that are being run by nonprofits, which have the combined capacity to shelter seventy individuals. A survey conducted by service providers in January 2020 indicated that close to 1,000 people were living in unsheltered settings in Denver.

After hearing of the audit request earlier this month, the office of Denver Auditor Tim O'Brien expressed an interest in performing an audit looking at the costs of sweeps.

"Folks have tuned in to what we've had to say, and they're responding in unity, and they're responding in agreement, and that's just really powerful," Campbell notes.

The coalition of groups calling for an end to the sweeps has been growing in recent weeks. On December 16, All In Denver penned an open letter to Hancock calling for the sweeps to stop. "We are all really appalled by the sweeps," explained Jami Duffy, co-chair and co-founder of All In Denver, a nonprofit whose goal is to make Denver "a more equitable city" and whose board includes both allies and opponents of the mayor

Like All In Denver, other groups are banding together. "I think that things are becoming more obvious. As the city becomes more heavy-handed with the sweeps, more people are able to witness," says Ana Cornelius of Denver Homeless Out Loud.

Cornelius thinks a federal court evidentiary hearing related to the sweeps earlier this month was a revelatory experience for many members of the public. "Because there was a call-in number, there were a lot of people who otherwise wouldn't be able to listen in who were," she says. "There were a lot of people who got to hear the testimony, not just the effects on our community members, but to hear the inhumane testimony on the city's behalf. To hear the city speak about other human beings in such a derogatory manner really opened people's eyes to the fact that this is a really abusive practice."

The U.S. District Court of Colorado will be hosting one final day of the evidentiary hearing in January; after that, Judge William J. Martinez will rule on a motion for preliminary injunction that could end the case...or keep it in court.

Access to the town hall is available here.
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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.