Sweep Happening Again of Denver Ballpark District Homeless Encampment | Westword


City Cleans Up Another Homeless Encampment in Ballpark District, Marking Second Sweep in a Month

Homeless residents in Denver's Ballpark District are expecting to be swept again this month after city outreach workers came by last week to offer housing.
A homeless resident stands outside her tent at the corner of 21st and Curtis streets.
A homeless resident stands outside her tent at the corner of 21st and Curtis streets. Bennito L. Kelty
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When the City of Denver cleaned up a homeless encampment at 20th and Curtis streets on November 1, Anthony and Angel Martinez — siblings and residents of the encampment — were looking to get swept as a way to get into housing.

"We missed it when they came by offering motels and housing vouchers because we were out," Angel says. "There were people who just moved in right across the street and then got housing real quick, and we just didn't know they were coming by."

Over the past month, the pair had other opportunities to sign up for housing through Mayor Mike Johnston's House1000 Initiative while at other encampments — including a stay at one in front of the Governor's Mansion — but somehow, they "kept missing [them]," Angel says of the city outreach workers who were handling sign-ups.

"They kept moving us down, then did one sweep, then they did the other," she tells Westword. "It was jacked up."

Luckily for Angel and Anthony, the city will be sweeping the area yet again this month, and now they're both signed up for housing after they're moved off the street.

Sweeps have turned out to be the only way for Denver's homeless population to get into housing via Johnston's House1000 plan, a fact that the Martinez siblings have had in the back of their minds. They finally got lucky on Tuesday, November 28.

"That cold weather ain't nothing nice," Anthony says. "I haven't been able to get housing because I've been moving around and stuff. I'm glad we caught them coming around this time."

Angel and Anthony moved their tent and belongings to the sidewalk by Curtis Street outside the U.S. Post Office at 951 20th Street in mid-October. After missing their chance to get housing during the November 1 sweep, they tell Westword that they were able to successfully sign up last week.

The city announced on Friday, December 1, that more than 200 people would move indoors from the encampment on Curtis Street and a separate encampment at 48th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard, near the edge of the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, following sweeps this month as part of the House1000 initiative.

"We are delighted to bring more than 200 Denverites into housing, help close encampments and reactivate public spaces all around the city," Johnston said in a December 1 statement. "Every individual we get into housing is a life changed, and every encampment that we close is a neighborhood transformed."

At around noon on Tuesday, November 28, city outreach workers went tent to tent through the 900 block of 20th Street, which wraps around the U.S. Post Office, offering to put homeless residents in motels. They also handed out food, water and socks.

The area around the encampment, Denver's Ballpark District, is a registered special district that stretches from just above Coors Field down to Welton Street. About 75 tents are in the encampment, despite the sweep in early November. Some areas now have fencing where tents used to be.

Angel, Anthony and other people who were living on the block say city workers were offering them a place to stay in a motel, but no one knew which motel it would be. The city said in a December 1 statement that the residents of the encampment would be moved into "a converted hotel where wraparound support services will be provided," but offered no additional details.

"The exact date and location of the shelter accommodations will remain confidential to ensure the privacy and safety of the encampment residents and those involved in the relocation process," the city said.

Outreach workers who were there and who worked for the Department of Housing and Stability couldn't comment at the time on where the homeless residents might be going, or whether their actions were in preparation for a sweep.

One worker at the encampment on November 28 was asked whether the employees were there in anticipation of a sweep. "Maybe," she said.

As 2023 comes to a close, Johnston is about 700 residents short of his House1000 goal of moving 1,000 people off the streets and into housing. The main way the mayor plans to finish is by opening up units at converted hotels and micro-communities, then clearing out encampments and moving residents into those units.
click to enlarge Two city outreach workers wait outside a homeless resident's tent.
Two city outreach workers wait outside a homeless resident's tent as they were going tent to tent at an encampment to offer people housing.
Bennito L. Kelty
The Johnston administration has managed to clear out encampments and then house their residents at least three times since September. It had moved 311 people indoors as of December 4 through the House1000 initiative, according to the city's online dashboard.

The Homelessness Resolution Operations Center — a city agency created by the administration to handle the homelessness crisis — waited until Friday, December 1, to confirm whether outreach workers were connecting residents with housing in anticipation of a sweep.

"As more units become available, we are identifying a number of encampments around the city to be included in the House1000 push in December to bring people indoors," an HROC spokesperson told Westword on November 28. "However, we are not confirming any locations until plans further materialize."

The city's December 1 statement asks "members of the media...to avoid the encampment closure areas to allow teams to complete the move."

Petar Frakes, a resident of the encampment, told Westword on November 28 that outreach workers were offering motel rooms to people because a sweep was set to happen this week. He wasn't sure that he would like the room the city was offering, however, saying he actually prefers his spot at the corner of Curtis and 21st.

"They did not say which motel it was going to be at, but they did tell us that they would be clearing this area next week," Frakes says. "I'll wait and see where they'll put us, but I'd rather be here, 100 percent."

Johnston promised from the start of his administration in mid-July that he would only sweep encampments if housing was available to immediately place those displaced residents indoors, or if encampments posed a public health and safety risk. He has since wept several encampments because of public health and safety risks.

The city revved up the use of right-of-way rules to commission sweeps in recent months. The Denver Police Department has also been carrying out "soft" sweeps, where cops will come by to tell residents they're violating the camping ban but no one is forced to move.

The Johnston administration doesn't use the term "sweep," but instead refers to the actions as "encampment closures" or — when housing will be offered before the sweep — "encampment resolutions." Since the Michael Hancock administration, the city has also used the term "decommissioning."
click to enlarge A HOST van is park outside an encampment on Curtis Street.
A van with "HOST" on the side for the Department of Housing Stability showed up at an encampment outside the U.S. Post Office in the BallPark District.
Bennito L. Kelty
When the City of Denver swept the Ballpark District encampment on November 1, it moved 61 homeless residents off the block and into housing. A second sweep, at 24th and Arapahoe streets on November 16, resulted in the relocation of twenty homeless residents to converted hotel rooms, according to Jose Salas, deputy director of communications for the mayor's office.

"They will now receive wraparound services to help them get a new start and a warm place to stay as the colder months approach," Salas says of the November 16 action. "A lot of work is taking place to reach our goal by the end of the year, and this is a step forward in that direction. As more units come online, we’ll be able to ramp up our efforts and help more people get indoors."

Johnston's senior adviser on homeless resolution, Cole Chandler, says that the city will be making a big push in December to get 700 people off the streets in order to meet the mayor's goal of housing 1,000 people by the end of the year. The mayor's office is even poaching employees from other city departments to help with the effort, with about thirty employees having their roles shift from whatever they were doing to working under new supervisors as outreach workers, at least until January.

An HROC spokesperson tells Westword that it cannot share whether some of the outreach workers at the encampment on November 28 were from other departments, citing privacy concerns. "The city will ramp up its efforts in the coming weeks, and we are excited to help more people get indoors. In order to meet our goal, existing staff is preparing and coordinating to help bring several hundred people experiencing homelessness indoors," the rep says. "Employees from additional agencies that were identified for the House1000 outreach efforts have received training and have been deployed to sites as needed to support current outreach staff."

Johnston has had to rely largely on converted hotel rooms to house the 311 people it has swept into housing, with a handful going to existing Tiny Home Villages run by the Colorado Village Collaborative. Micro-communities are pillars of Johnston's housing plans, but service providers are only recently getting their contracts approved by Denver City Council, and the city doesn't expect to have its first sites up and running until December 15 at the earliest, according to the Colorado Village Collaborative and the Gathering Place, both of which are expected to manage micro-communities.

While Angel and Anthony Martinez are grateful to be indoors, Frakes, who's 54 years old and has been out on the streets for more than a decade, remains skeptical.

"I've heard from people who go to the La Quinta Inn [shelter] and shit like that, and they say there's bed bugs. I don't have no bed bugs here," he says of street life. "I'd rather be outside, because I can choose what's going on. I've been out here twelve years, brother, and I've braved all twelve [winters] since I've been out here." 
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