Jan 29, 2024 - News

Denver votes to ban encampment sweeps during freezing temps

Snow covered tents at a homeless camp site in Denver in January 2022. Photo: Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The city's encampment sweeps could be banned when Denver experiences freezing temperatures, a step homeless advocates say will help save lives.

Driving the news: The Denver City Council voted 7-6 on Monday to pass the bill, which is headed to Mayor Mike Johnston for final approval.

Why it matters: The bill's passing marks a major victory by the council's progressive wing, including council members Shontel Lewis and Sarah Parady, who sponsored it on safety grounds to avoid serious injury like frostbite for people living outdoors.

Yes, but: It's unclear whether Johnston, who has made eliminating homelessness his top priority, will sign the measure.

  • Jordan Fuja, a spokesperson for the mayor, said in a statement Johnston is committed to resident safety, but added the measure "will limit the actions the city can take to keep people safe." Fuja said a decision will be made in the coming days.

Details: The bill bans encampment sweeps — which have faced criticism over their effectiveness the past 10 years — when temperatures are projected to reach 32 degrees or lower.

  • It makes exceptions for allowing it during cold weather if there are other life-threatening issues prompting a sweep.

By the numbers: Last year, more than 95%of days in months including January, February, March, November and December were below 32 degrees, according to an analysis from Denverite.

What they're saying: Jerry Burton, a homeless advocate who has experienced a sweep in cold weather, said during a rally supporting the bill these cleanups make it difficult to collect belongings.

The other side: Council members who opposed the bill included Darrell Watson, who called the proposal overly complicated and called on Johnston to veto it.

  • Kevin Flynn said he wanted decisions on sweeps to be made by city agencies responsible for cleanups.

Flashback: A polar vortex blasted Denver with freezing temperatures earlier this month, prompting the city to extend availability for two overnight severe weather shelters.

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