Just when you thought Mayor Hancock couldn’t be any more cruel, HE UPS THE CRUELTY SCALE&!@#
Today, April 23rd 2020, the City posted notice of a mass sweep on April 30th of all the encampments from 20th to 23rd, from Welton to Curtis. On March 24th 2020 the Mayor’s office stated that “people or their property will not be displaced” during this state of emergency. We are still in a state of emergency. The CDC put out guidance that encampments should not be swept during this pandemic. Instead, cities should provide bathrooms and hand washing stations to every encampment. The City has refused to follow these CDC guidelines.
The City has done nothing to provide these basic hygiene needs for people living outside. We in Denver Homeless Out Loud together with Mutual Aid Denver took the initiative to provide a few (4) portable toilets and handwashing stations because the city has failed to do so. These toilets have been heavily used due to the great need. As part of the effort cleanings are being performed every day by a resident of the camp.
Currently there are 95 tents in the blocks slated to be swept next week. With 1-5 people in each tent this means at least 300 people will have nowhere to go.
It is well known that encampments are safer environments than shelters during this pandemic. Tents have individual space and fresh air. Even if a tent is shared with others, there is much less mass contamination than in a shelter where hundreds of others share the same closed air and surfaces. Furthermore, the new shelters at the National Western and the Coliseum are often maxed out, even if it was safe and preferred for the 300 people living at these encampments there would not be room in these facilities.
We recently surveyed 64 people who are homeless about what their 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice of a place to stay would be. 87.3% said their 1st choice is a hotel room; 9.5% said tent camping; and 3.2% said emergency shelter. These answers are reflective of what housing wait list data and common sense show: People want housing. People are living outside at encampments because they cannot attain housing and they do not want to or can’t live in a mass shelter. As long as you exist, you have to be somewhere.
On April 1st 2020 we filed a “Mandamus” against the State of Colorado for not doing their job to protect the people of Colorado by not providing individual housing for people who are homeless currently on the streets or in shelters. The State and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment continue to delay action or response on this case, and tens of thousands of people who are homeless across the State are still living in mass shelters and on the streets. Countless service provider agencies have been pushing like crazy to get hotels to open their doors in this crisis, and to date in Denver there are only 758 hotel rooms available for homeless people. That is 758 rooms for a total of at least 5000 (in reality many more) homeless people. These rooms are currently prioritized for people who have tested for COVID, are over 65 years, or have other pre-existing health conditions.
If the City actually cared about the health and safety of the 300 people living at these encampments, they would place these homeless people in empty hotel rooms or vacant apartments, or they would call off the sweeps, tear down the fences on public strips (where many have chosen to camp in the past only to be fenced off), provide portable toilets and hand washing stations for every encampment of 10 people or more.
We are waiting, City of Denver… Will you open up 300 hotel rooms or apartments in the next week for these 300 Denver residents without homes to live “safer-at-home”???