Denver’s homeless citizens and their tents are becoming more visible, particularly near the Capitol, after a county judge ruled against the city’s urban camping ban and police stopped enforcing the ordinance.
With city cleanup sweeps announced for other gathering spots this week, more than a dozen tents and makeshift shelters stood within sight of the statehouse Monday as lawmakers prepared for this week’s opening of their annual session.
Several people camping along 14th Street said the city’s decision to halt enforcement last month emboldened them to pitch tents at that high-profile location. There’s safety in numbers and in public places like Civic Center, they said.
On Dec. 27, Denver County Judge Johnny C. Barajas dismissed a homeless man’s ticket for violating the camping ban. In his decision, the judge said the ban amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. The city attorney’s office is appealing the decision, but meanwhile Denver police stopped performing street checks for unauthorized camping.
Downtown worker Mike Nishi said he has noticed a difference as he walks past Civic Center daily to and from his bus stop: “The tents are new, but in terms of numbers (of people), I don’t think anything’s changed.”
Nishi wears headphones as he walks and said he’s rarely stopped or heckled, but said he could see how a tourist or visitor might be put off by the crowd at Civic Center.
Some moved to the Civic Center encampment after learning that the site where they had been staying would be subjected to a “large-scale cleanup” by Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure this week. The cleanups will take place along 24th, 25th, Stout and Lawrence streets, Charlotte Pitt, interim director of Denver’s Department of Solid Waste Management, told City Council members in an email.
A homeless encampment of about a dozen tents lining 14th Avenue between Lincoln and Broadway near the Colorado State Capitol Building on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020.
Those cleanups are unrelated to the camping ban, Pitt said in the email. Other laws let city officials clear obstructions from public rights of way.
The large group of homeless people can be intimidating, said Jody Tijero, a student who was waiting for a bus at the corner of Colfax and Broadway on Monday afternoon. She said she tries to avoid the area.
“I get freaked out,” Tijero said. “I get kind of scared when someone is rambling off and coming near me.”
Some appear to be on drugs and others fight amongst themselves, Tijero said.
She chose her words carefully, sensitive to the plight of those on the streets. She wondered what additional services could be provided to those looking for a way out of homelessness.
Some must sleep outside until an appropriate alternative arises, said Cathy Alderman, vice president of communications and public policy for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.
Until new options are available “”there will be a constant unproductive push/pull about where they should go,” Alderman said.
“We need to focus on investing in safe places for people to be rather than arguing about which law applies when,” she added.