Denver begins again to sweep homeless from Lawrence Street camps

November 11, 2016 / Posted in Denver, Downtown

Homeless had returned to the Lawrence Street camps after they were cleared out in March

Denver police sweep homeless camps

 

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Denver police begin sweeps of homeless camps near the downtown Denver Recuse Mission on Nov. 15, 2016.

PUBLISHED:

Denver police and city workers gathered Tuesday morning to again sweep the homeless camps on Lawrence Street near Samaritan House.

At 10:40 a.m., police cordoned off a small area of the homeless camp and a cleanup crew began working.

As the police gathered Tuesday morning, a small group of homeless people began chanting, “No justice, no peace” and “Housing not handcuffs.”

“We’ll be marching to City Hall today and set up camp there,” said Shannon Wolf.

While some prepared to march, others said they would refuse to move. “I been arrested before,” said Elizabeth Dotson.

At least two lawyers were on scene Tuesday morning to offer advice to the homeless. “If people make a choice to engage in civil disobedience against unconstitutional behavior, I can represent them for free,” one lawyer said.

The homeless began packing up their belongings hours before the city crews arrived.

“I’m downsizing,” said John Gerhard as he packed up his belongings near Samaritan House. “I have no idea what I’m going to do.”

Denver police sweep homeless camps
RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Denver police begin sweeps of homeless camps near the downtown Denver Recuse Mission on Nov. 15, 2016.

Jason Flores-Williams, a lawyer who filed a lawsuit on behalf of the homeless against the city in an effort to block sweeps, said he had hoped the city would wait until a judge ruled on the issue before taking any action.

“The city thinks it’s above the law,” Flores-Williams said.

Bonnie Stephens, who walks through homeless camp each morning taking her two children to school criticized the city’s plan to move the homeless. “They are human beings, they should have a right to rest.”

Officials posted notices last week that the homeless camps would be cleared.

The encampment on Lawrence Street in Downtown Denver, now runs from Park Avenue to Broadway and from Broadway to 24th Street. Along that strip, the sidewalks are crowded with people and their possessions — bicycles, wheelchairs and shopping carts piled with personal items.

In March, Denver city workers and police moved into the area near Samaritan House and cleared the sidewalks where many of the homeless were living, temporarily sweeping away what had become a large camp.

After the March sweep, the number of people camping there plummeted, Geoff Bennett vice president of shelter and community outreach for Catholic Charities, which operates Samaritan House, said in October.

But the homeless moved back and city crews remove hazardous waste and trash from the area each day, said Julie Smith, spokeswoman for the Denver Department of Human Services.

The city’s approach to connect the people who are living on the streets and help them to stabilize their lives has been consistent, according to a city of Denver statement released Nov.10.

“We have safe spaces during the day, we have beds open at night, we have services at the ready and we will remain focused on helping our people,” the statement said.

The encampments pose health and safety concerns for those living on the streets, and those who work and live nearby, the statement said.

But actions such as Denver’s street sweeps to clear the homeless does little to solve the problem, according to a February report released by the University of Denver.

Denver spent more than $750,000 enforcing ordinances that target homelessness in 2014, a high price tag that has done little to alleviate a problem so apparent on city streets, the report by law students at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law said. The report examined the social and economic effect of laws that criminalize acts such as lying down or camping in public spaces throughout the state.

Denver begins again to sweep homeless from Lawrence Street camps