Cleaning area at Five Points, secure outdoor area in Clayton

The city of Denver has quietly stepped up efforts to prevent homeless camps from forming in a downtown neighborhood while working to provide the city with land for licensed camping a few miles away.

City crews are now cleaning homeless people and their belongings from sidewalks and other public rights of way at least three times a week in an area about 10 blocks in the Five Points neighborhood, officials said. .

“Permanent and regular cleanings are necessary in this area to systematically promote the health and safety of all in the region, including homeless people …” said Nancy Kuhn, spokesperson for the Ministry of Transport and ‘Infrastructure of the city, in a statement sent by email.

The area identified by authorities at the end of September is bounded by Broadway, Park Avenue, Welton and 20th Street. It’s dotted with signs that make it a permanent area for what opponents of the camping ban are calling sweeps. The permanent cleaning area has been first reported by Westword.

Kuhn said the clean-up actions make the sidewalk accessible so people don’t have to walk the streets and help mitigate public health risks created by garbage, rotting food, discarded needles, human waste and flammable materials such as propane and gasoline.

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

The City of Denver posted signs indicating a new permanent no-camping zone at part of Five Points in Denver on November 22, 2021.

Unlike most camp clean-ups, the city does not notify people camping in the area seven days in advance. The notice rule was established by a federal injunction earlier this year.

“This is an attempt to circumvent the requirements of the preliminary injunction,” said Andy McNulty, the lawyer who filed the federal lawsuit against the city’s camping ban last week. “They’re setting up an area that basically says you can’t exist here if you’re a homeless person.”

McNulty and Deputy City Attorney Conor Farley presented arguments in a hearing with a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit last week on the merits of the preliminary injunction. The city’s goal was to lift restrictions on its powers to enforce the camping ban.

Farley noted in his comments that there is a process by which the city can expedite enforcement actions to a 48-hour schedule if an emergency public health risk exists at an encampment, but said this no wasn’t early enough yet. He also acknowledged that the public record is meager on examples of public health emergencies that require a faster response.

A representative of the city attorney’s office declined to comment on the arguments which are still being considered by the panel judges. McNulty said the hearing was a demonstration that the city had acted in bad faith about its motives for cleaning up the settlements.

“They just want to have the power to do what they want when they want to without any consequences and they are not happy that someone is holding them responsible once,” he said.

The permanent clean-up area the city demarcated in September is the second of its kind, Kuhn said. Another area, roughly demarcated by Larimer, Arapahoe, 22nd and 24th Streets, is also subject to regular enforcement, she said.

In his emailed statement, Kuhn encouraged homeless people to take advantage of the city’s services available to them rather than staying on the streets.

“Our shelters have capacity; they are open 24/7, many do not require sobriety, they are safe and clean and provide essential services to exit homelessness, including case management and rehousing ”, a- she writes.

Kuhn emailed the Denver Post his statement before a Denver Rescue Mission employee was fatally stabbed at the organization’s men’s shelter at 4600 E. 48th Ave. Saturday night.

The potential for violent episodes is just one thing that may prevent homeless people from using the city’s shelter network. Cathy Alderman, public policy manager for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, noted that sleeping in a large, open room with other people is not ideal for everyone and the environment can be triggering for people with disabilities. taken with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The coalition has offices in the Five Points permanent clean-up area. Law enforcement does not necessarily mean that there are fewer people on the streets, but that people who would otherwise have been near coalition offices and the offices of other service providers in the region are now more dispersed.

“We do not support the enforcement of the camping ban. We think it’s extremely unproductive, “said Alderman,” but at the same time the encampments sometimes lead to security concerns. “

The city’s crackdown on camping in this corner of Five Points comes at a time when city officials are also busy approving a sanctioned homeless campsite known as “secure outdoor spaceOn the Denver east campus of the city’s Department of Social Services.

The site, located at 3815 Steele St. in the Clayton neighborhood, will be the first safe outdoor space on city-owned property when it opens next month. The site will replace another space on the campus of a Park Hill church that is slated to close at the end of the year.

Space Clayton will feature 41 electrically-equipped tents capable of accommodating up to 50 people, according to Colorado Village Collaborative, the nonprofit the city has contracted to operate the sites. The city will lease the land to the co-op for $ 10 in the first year, with two six-month extension options.

The city council voted on Monday evening to approve the lease. Councilor Amanda Sawyer, who represents District 5 in the eastern part of the city, was the only one voting against. She has always opposed the city spending money on safe outdoor spaces.

Site operators are optimistic about what the Clayton site means for the future of their model.

“I am delighted to see the city intensify in this way and make public land available for this purpose,” said Cole Chandler, executive director of Colorado Village Collaborative. “We think this really indicates that the public conversation around these sites is changing. “

The nonprofit won an $ 899,000 contract to operate the improved campsites this year and, by the start of the month, had served more than 120 households that previously had no shelter and lived on the streets. Chandler said.

The Colorado Village Collaborative today opened a safe site near the Denver Health Medical Center in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Chandler said. By the end of the year, the association will have three sites with the aim of opening a fourth in early 2022. The city and the association are negotiating a contract for next year which could further extend the network.

During a committee hearing at the Clayton site earlier this month, Councilor Chris Hinds noted that his District 10 is hosting the first two temporary secure outdoor spaces this year and that neighbors have moved on to send him emails against them to adopt them as safer alternatives to encampments.

“It is a model of transformation,” he said. “He has had incredible success. “

The November election results also give Chandler hope, he said. Not only did voters reject Initiated Ordinance 303, which would have made the camping ban stricter, they also supported the preservation of the Group Living Amendment aimed at reducing housing costs in the city.

The Denver Department of Housing Stability recently obtained council approval for its 5-year strategic plan and projects with more than $ 270.6 million to spend next year, including $ 40.9 million from the homelessness resolution fund approved by voters in 2020. Almost 50% of this budget is dedicated to homelessness resolution efforts.

Alderman said providing safer outdoor spaces is a positive step, offering an alternative between enforcing the camping ban and shelters. But, like the existing shelter system, these are only short-term solutions.

“The city is investing in housing and homelessness on a scale it has never seen before and that’s a good thing,” Alderman said. “Unfortunately, we’re in a pretty big crisis, so it will take some time for these dollars to have the impact they expect.”