Apr 16, 2024 - News

Latest Denver homeless encampment sweep won't come with housing options

Several camping tents of various sizes and colors are lined up against a wall next to a bridge, while one man walks in the foreground, and a woman pushes a cart next to him.

A homeless encampment near an underpass at West 8th Avenue in Denver's Lincoln Park neighborhood. Photo: Esteban L. Hernandez/Axios

Denver will clear a homeless encampment Tuesday, but for the first time in six months, it won't provide direct housing options for people affected.

Why it matters: It's a blow to Mayor Mike Johnston's homeless strategy, which had guaranteed shelter to people being relocated from encampments.

What they're saying: "This is not what we want to be doing," Cole Chandler, the mayor's senior adviser for homelessness, tells us. But he says the city didn't have enough vacant rooms at its eight sheltering sites to accommodate the more than 130 people living in the encampment.

  • The city didn't consider waiting until more spaces became available because of the encampment's poor conditions, he tells us.

Flashback: Denver first began providing direct shelter options for people being removed from sites during an encampment sweep last September.

  • A month later, crews carried out a sweep without providing people with a place to stay.

By the numbers: At least 1,447 people have been brought indoors since then, per city data.

Driving the news: Crews are scheduled to clear an encampment Tuesday near and around an underpass along West 8th Avenue in the city's Lincoln Park neighborhood.

State of play: The camp had gotten far too large and unsafe to be left unattended, Chandler tells us, with three suspected fatal overdoses and more than 25 arrests at the site.

  • Neighbors shared concerns about safety and conditions during a public meeting hosted by Johnston earlier this month.
  • "I know you're trying to help them β€” and I appreciate that β€” but who's helping us?" resident Brenda Bly asked, according to Westword.

Zoom in: At least one person we spoke to at the camp said they were planning on leaving Monday night before the city's planned sweep.

  • "There's no winning for us β€” we're not meant to win and have a solution," Sierra, who asked only for her first name to be used, told us, noting the public still complains about micro-communities set up by the city.
  • She's lived at the camp for a few months, and says she would like the city to buy unused land to allow people to camp, along with some portable toilets and other services.

What's next: Between 100 to 140 existing housing and sheltering units will be available at some point in May, Johnston spokesperson Jose Salas tells us.

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