DENVER (CBS4) — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock affirmed that city officials will continue to clear out homeless encampments and said they may do it without warning.
“We cannot allow for these encampments to persist in our city. Period,” Mayor Hancock said during a virtual news conference on Friday.
Hancock said the city has set up safe, sanitary shelters — but people are choosing not to stay in them.
Authorities faced resistance from homeless advocates and people camping at Lincoln Park, near Civic Center Park, during a sweep on Wednesday.
City officials said just one person accepted a free bus ride to a shelter.
“We are seeing, on average, 550 beds available for people every day that are not being taken in our shelters,” Hancock stated.
City officials said the shelters offer ” good meals, assigned beds, plenty of space,” as well as medical care and mental health resources.
In addition to the risk of COVID-19 exposure at encampments, officials said there are outbreaks of other infectious diseases at the camps — along with other health and safety concerns.
“You’ve got COVID and you’ve got rat infestation, you’ve got needles that are haphazardly around, and other threats — we had a triple shooting over here at Veterans Park the other day… I saw a video yesterday of someone being brutally attacked by two other members of an encampment in another location in downtown,” Hancock stated.
Hancock reiterated that over 80% of Denver residents voted against repealing the camping ban last year.
“We will continue to be diligent, with regards to the cleaning, as well as the breakdown of these encampments. We continue to work to make sure there’s enough space for everyone to move to moving forward, going and making sure that we can properly accommodate those who are in shelters in our city,” Hancock said.
Hancock said some sweeps may not be publicized in advance — saying “there’s a city council member who is texting and sending out information trying to get people show up and protest.”
“We know that, and it’s putting everyone at risk,” Hancock stated. “And it’s unfortunate, because we have, you know, when people are showing up to do their job and try to help folks. We now create an escalation. So, you know, I’m not going to mince words — it’s not okay, it’s putting everyone at risk, and it’s not helping anyone when those sorts of things happen.”
Officials said the city is required to give residents at encampments at least a week’s notice before those camps are broken up for general cleaning — but that is not required if it is determined that the camps pose an imminent public health risk.