Sep 27, 2023 - News

Denver's latest encampment sweep focuses on providing housing

People experiencing homelessness collect belongings before a city-sanctioned sweep on Tuesday in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Denver. Photo: Esteban L. Hernandez/Axios

For the first time under Mayor Mike Johnston, unhoused people relocated from an encampment site in Denver are being connected directly to housing.

Why it matters: The latest sweep completed Tuesday in the Capitol Hill neighborhood is a new strategy and a major test for Johnston's administration.

Details: Unlike previous sweeps, the city is offering rapid housing options for the people being removed by giving them an opportunity to stay in hotel rooms.

  • The city is giving people between six and 12 months to stay before moving into permanent housing.
  • This option wasn't available to people who were moved during the administration's first sweep in August. Instead, people were often directed to stay at overnight shelters.

Zoom in: Starting the week of Sept. 11, the city says about 70 people living in tents between 7th and 8th avenues, from Logan to Grant streets, were contacted about relocating.

  • The encampment was identified for removal because it was blocking the public right of way.

State of play: People living in the encampment began moving into the hotel on Monday, per Denverite.

  • The city won't have a final number of people who accepted shelter until moving is completed, city spokesperson Clarissa Boggs-Blake told us.
  • The city is declining to name the hotel, saying it wants to protect the people getting shelter.

The intrigue: When the city started notifying people earlier this month that they'd get access to housing resources, more people started moving into the encampment, Boggs-Blake said.

  • "It's encouraging to receive the clear message that people want to move indoors when they have the chance," Boggs-Blake said over email.

Between the lines: Only people who were at the encampment when the city first made contact were added to the list for hotel spots. Those who arrived later were added to a waitlist.

  • William Curry was among the unhoused folks who didn't make the cut. He told us Tuesday morning he was told to go to an overnight shelter, but he doesn't like staying there, so he was still determining where he would go next.
  • "It's just been a nightmare. It's ridiculously high-priced for anything here," Curry told us, saying he needs not only housing but treatment for his sciatica.

The big picture: The sweep is connected to Johnston's plan to shelter 1,000 people experiencing homelessness by the end of this year.

  • In the past few weeks, outreach teams visited the Capitol Hill encampment daily to provide behavioral health, substance use, harm reduction and other medical resources, according to a statement.
  • Hand-washing stations, portable toilets and trash removal were also provided leading up to clearing the site.

What they're saying: "This one is more humane than the past ones I've lived through," Levi Halbrook, who's unhoused and was observing the sweep (but wasn't part of it), told us.

Go deeper: Johnston reveals the estimated cost for his plan to shelter 1,000 people this year.

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