By Stan Bush
DENVER (CBS4) – Homeless camps in downtown Denver have reached a critical mass and on Tuesday the city will act on it.
A clean sweep has been ordered for the sidewalks near Park Avenue West and Lawrence Street, where hundreds of homeless people have camped out. The city says the camp has become a public health hazard, where homeless people have used the sidewalk not only as a bedroom but also a toilet.
Cleaning crews will seize whatever items people living there do not take with them and hold the items in storage for 30 days unless the items are claimed.
In March crews did a similar sweep up. Campsites were seized and the sidewalks were deep cleaned. The homeless camp was gone for months, but the encampments began to return with warm weather.
“We keep coming back here, the ones who don’t fit in with the others, to avoid problems and get supplies,” says one homeless man. “We’d rather be out here than separate.”
There is no question that the homeless camp has become a problem downtown. City officials say it is a blight on one of the state’s fastest growing neighborhoods. There are enough beds at Denver shelters to house all of the city’s homeless, but the city says the homeless that camp on the streets are refusing help.
Officials hope the sweep will create an opportunity to reach homeless people who may still want help.
Professionals who work in the area say drug activity there is a daily intimidation and the cleanup just moves the activity to another area.
“I think after the clean-ups I feel a little safer,” says Nicole Crow, who works nearby. “But, when they push them that way it’s weird to walk home.”
Denver Public Works did not return calls for comment on the sweep. Earlier this year, Bennie Milliner, the Executive Director of Denver’s Road Home, said the city would address clean sweeps of the homeless camp as the situation warranted it. Milliner did not elaborate on exactly what criteria the city would consider for a sweep.