By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) – A young couple in Denver’s West City Park neighborhood have put their home up for sale saying problems with Denver’s homeless population are driving them out of the city.
“It makes us extremely uncomfortable and we don’t want to live here any longer,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified.
“Increasingly every day it’s the number one reason I want to sell is because of the homeless situation.”
Their complaint is part of a growing chorus of Denver residents saying homeless issues have encroached into neighborhoods that previously saw minimal impact from Denver’s homeless population. One Denver police officer who patrols Denver’s Capitol Hill corridor told CBS4 60 to 80 percent of his service calls are from residents dealing with homeless men and women causing problems.
Many residents contacted by CBS4 say the problems have grown exponentially within the last year.
The couple selling their house said they were constantly dealing with needles, feces and used condoms in their alley. They say on occasion, the homeless would walk into their backyard, take their patio cushions and use them for sleeping. But they say the last straw came on the night of Sept. 12, when they say two transients repeatedly had loud sex just outside their front door.
“It was obnoxious and went on for quite awhile,” said the woman.
She and her husband called Denver’s 911 dispatch center four times requesting police assistance.
On one of the calls, the woman tells a 911 dispatcher,”We are trying to sleep and homeless people are having sex on the porch nextdoor. This is absurd this is happening.”
After multiple calls, a dispatcher said police had higher priority calls to deal with.
“I feel unsafe with them right now … I feel endangered,” the woman told the operator.
Just west of Denver’s Cheesman Park, another resident told CBS4, “There didn’t used to be a problem.” She moved into her home more than eight years ago but says “I’ve never felt this uncomfortable.”
She said she is now regularly accosted in her alley by aggressive homeless men scavenging for food.
“I feel unease,” said the woman.
She said earlier this summer, a homeless squatter moved into a neighbor’s backyard when the neighbor was out of town on business.
She pointed out homeless encampments that have been regularly popping up on the fringes of Cheesman Park. She said the transients leave trash and debris in the park.
“It’s people who feel entitled to live where they want and inconvenience whoever they want. It’s not a good thing. It makes it unsafe for the rest of us.”
Another woman said, “Yep, it is a problem. I run at Cheesman Park, and the homeless use the water fountain to clean up.”
The complaints are not surprising to Jim Hannifin, who has run a temporary employment agency on Colfax Avenue for decades. Hannifin employs many homeless in construction, factory and day labor jobs. He said of the homeless situation, “I’ve never seen it this bad. And it’s getting worse.”
Hannifin said Denver’s sky high housing costs are partly to blame.
“Working people, low wage people can’t find a place to live. There’s just no affordable housing for low wage workers.”
He said part of the problem is motels along the Colfax corridor that used to cost $30 per night and were affordable now command rates of $100 per night, pricing out low wage earners. He said he seeing more “crazies and drunks” and blames a lack of government spending on mental health services.
“We don’t fund mental health,” he lamented. Hannifin said there’s no shortage of jobs.
“There’s plenty of work — we can’t get enough people,” he said. But those comparatively low paying jobs don’t pay enough to cover housing costs.
Cathy Alderman, from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, said she too has heard of the spreading homeless issue. She too partly blames rising housing costs as a factor forcing more men and women on to the streets.
“People don’t have a place to go,” she said.
As of now, Alderman said there are an estimated 5,500 homeless in the Denver metro area and about 3,300 of those are in the downtown area. She said she believes they are moving into neighborhoods now as a “direct result of the sweeps.”
She was referring to stepped up police enforcement in downtown Denver and along the Cherry Creek Bike Path that has pushed the homeless into other areas.
Dr. Massimo Asolati, who also lives near 18th and Gilpin, recently wrote to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock complaining of the homeless using his alley as a “lounge area.” He said he has called the police several times but to no avail.
“As a citizen, homeowner and taxpayer, this has become a safety hazard, with these homeless individuals screaming and threatening if (I try) to invite them to leave. This is certainly not the picture of the city that the administration wants to the visitors and tourists coming to Denver (to see),” wrote Asolati.
“As a citizen and resident of this community I feel like everybody is washing their hands on these problems,” he said.
Julie Smith, marketing and communications director for Denver’s Human Services agency, told CBS4, “I think we have to absolutely acknowledge that there is a growing concern about homelessness in our city.”
“We all have a freedom in this country and we can move and be where we are as long as we are within the law,” Smith said.
Smith said Denver is working with other metro area counties to deal with the homelessness issue.