DENVER (CBS4) — On the north edge of Denver’s downtown, gunshots are becoming a regular song of the night. Even the daytime. Residents say violence and drug dealing are taking over encampments in an area where people experiencing homelessness have been seeking refuge for decades.
“Things have changed demonstrably in the last four months,” says Noah Geisel, who lives on Curtis St. near Park Avenue West. “A half dozen shootings in the past two weeks, brutal beat downs, multiple overdoses, and that’s just the serious stuff.”
Our check of crimes in the area came up with a long list of petty crimes like theft from vehicles and larceny, but also reports of violence.
Geisel said he watched a man brutally beaten on the street. Video was captured on a camera that keeps an eye on the street.
Neighbor Flor Saldias said she walks four blocks around the long way lately to reach her home.
“They are under drug abuse all day long,” Saldias said. “So obviously something will go wrong in that environment.”
Curtis Park differs from many neighborhoods because the people who own or rent in the area are best described as socially conscious. They try and help the people who live lives in the streets in this part of the city. They’ve done it for years with volunteer outreach visits. But things have changed over the past four months.
“There’s kind of been an overall lawlessness in society since COVID was taken on,” says Jeff Baker, president of Curtis Park Neighbors. He notes a reduction in the city’s vigor in enforcing regulations and laws, believing CDC guidelines in the pandemic mean avoiding crackdowns on homeless encampments. It appears police have been doing less law enforcement, but there’s no answer from the Denver Police Department on whether that is due to new pressure on police to back off on heavy handed enforcement. They did tell us their homeless outreach team has been to the area.
There was no response from the mayor’s office after our late-day inquiry about its response or about questions of whether it is allowing the violence to go unchecked.
Tents remain set up around the University Prep elementary school, where a man named Raymond, who is homeless, told us they’ve been told by the city they can stay until in-person learning returns. There are several schools in the area.
“The shelters are too crowded,” he explained.
Less than two weeks ago, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said there are hundreds of beds available.
“We are seeing, on average, 550 beds available for people every day that are not being taken in our shelters,” Mayor Hancock stated.
At the St. Francis Center on Curtis, development director Andrew Spinks noted there are new challenges amid the pandemic and worries about the victims in the homeless encampments from outsiders – who likely have homes – but come into the tent cities to sell to addicts.
“The folks who are experiencing homelessness and are unhoused are preyed upon, which is another reason they shouldn’t be in a tent on the side of the street, because there really is no buffer for them.”
The people who own or rent in Curtis Park are not uncaring, just overwhelmed and getting afraid.
“We are obviously very empathetic to our homeless we don’t want them to be living like this. But at the same time we have to find a way to live together and respect each other, and we are not,” said Flor Saldias.