Yesterday, January 3rd 2023, the City closed the migrant camp of 400 people near Quality Inn. Fencing was put up around the whole area before 7am. Many camp residents believed it was ICE putting up the fence and ran in fear – leaving all their belongings. Because of this heavy handed sweep approach, these people lost their property and did not go to the shelter. Throughout the day at least 60 cops were present – many with riot gear.
Residents of the camp were told they could store their tent and belongings or trash them – even though they also should have the option to take their tent and belongings, or to donate them to the community to be given back out. These last two options were not told to residents.
Camp residents were given no choice but to get on a bus and go to the new congregate shelters which opened that day. No other options were offered to them. (Some people have been able to apply for the housing assistance recently where the City is paying one to three/six months on rent depending on the situation, but this takes more time and was not offered as an immediate housing option during the sweep.) Even though outreach teams have been present for a few days at the camp, this was the first day most people got actual information about the shelter.
People expressed great dislike and concern when they learned it would be an “open format” with mats on the floor. Many people had been expecting a room like they had stayed at in hotel shelters, and were not happy to learn of the warehouse style shelter.
Later in the afternoon, after some of the buses had already taken hundreds of migrants to the shelters, people began to show up back at the Zuni camp because they did not feel safe at the shelter. One couple showed up distraught as the young women expressed feeling very unsafe in a big room sleeping next to a bunch of men. She said she felt safer in their private tent and wanted to come back to the camp. This couple told us that there were around 30 more people from the shelter leaving also. We met some of these people, including more couples, as they came back to the camp looking for somewhere else to stay. City outreach workers would only try to convince them to go to one of the shelters – no other option was offered.
At 5pm the City “closed” the camp and would not allow people to remain inside the fence area. Anyone who was at work during the sweep, or for whatever reason were not there, would have to know to find the cop who would be parked there all night and ask to get in to get any stuff needed, but would not be able to stay in their tent. In reality, people showing up after 5pm likely lost all their property and will not know where to go that night.
Today, City workers are going to start going through the camp and trashing or storing tents and property. Yesterday they marked tents with an “X” (for trash) and an “I” (for information). Tents with an “X” were supposedly “contaminated” and tents with an “I” were supposed to get more information to decide if they were contaminated or not. Tents that the owner did not ask to store that are not contaminated are supposed to be donated back to the community. (However, as I type this reports are coming in of tents with an “I” being trash regardless of quality).
With what we have been told is 320 spots at the shelters, and with about 400 migrants living in the camp prior to yesterday, the numbers do not add up. Even with many people leaving these shelters due to not feeling safe or comfortable in a congregate setting (as well as issues like the lack of showers or rules), with hundreds more migrants coming every week, these shelters will be over capacity in no time.
Furthermore, people are only given 30 days at the shelter – so where are they supposed to go after that? The City says they will connect people with housing in that timeframe, but we have been told 1 out of every 10 people applying are being denied, the process takes time for those who can get it, and funding is not secured indefinitely for all. This housing opportunity is a great step forward, but it simply will not secure housing for everyone timed out of the shelters at 30 days.
The sweep of this camp was posted for 5 days, yet only one of these days was dedicated to moving people – the last 4 days are being used to clear the property. Having been to hundreds of sweeps over the year, we can say definitively that this sweep was one of the most chaotic, poorly planned, rushed sweeps. While a 7 day notice was posted for this sweep, residents of the camp were given no real information about the shelters they were expected to go to until the day of the sweep. Furthermore, the shelters that they were moved into were not opened until the day of the sweep. This sweep was also conducted when it was as low as 22 degrees – instead of waiting until the sun had warmed up. More time should have been given for residents to get full information about the shelter and other options to make informed decisions on what is best for them and their families.
Most importantly, no sweep or closure should have happened. The resources the City is providing for shelter and some housing could have been offered camp residents in such a way that they can choice to go to the shelter if they wish or not if they do not wish, and in such a way as to keep – at least some – of the tents up and available for those who do not feel safe at shelter and for the hundreds more migrants coming to Denver every day who will need somewhere to be. The reality is, without this (or another) tent site as a backup, countless people are going to be scattered through the City with nothing, freezing on the streets with no support.
Photos by Alexei Wood @LexShoots
Housekeys Action Network Denver
Towards rights, dignity, housing…