DENVER (CBS4) – Neighbors in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood say the problems they first started noticing at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic when homeless camps set up around Morey Middle School have continued months later, even after the city cleared the tents located directly on the sidewalks of the school. They say the people living outside their houses and apartments have just moved blocks away but the threat to their safety and the illegal activity remains steps from their doors.
“It’s a very tough problem,” said Timothy Wayne, a property owner in the Denver neighborhood. “They get stuff stolen, people break into their cars, they see the prostitution, they see the drugs.”
Back in June when neighbors first contacted CBS4 about the issue, there were tents located on all four sides of the school campus. Two months later, the city had a homeless cleanup that pushed those living on the street by Morey to leave the area. But neighbors say they moved, in some cases, just one block away. The school has been fenced off but the sidewalks remain clear.
“It is a problem when the kids return,” Wayne told CBS4 on Thursday. “They’re just going to keep moving them around and that’s not going to work.”
Morey is a part of Denver Public Schools and the district remains in remote learning. But students could return to some form of in-person teaching as early as next month, residents worry about what the students will face when they walk to and from school. The city says the response it has in place continues to try and serve those in the tents and it does not have plans to make any changes as of now when school returns on campus.
“They’re concerned about safety, some of them come home at 2 o’clock in the morning,” Wayne said of his tenants who live near the school. “It’s very scary to them, they get catcalled, they get harassed.”
City staff told CBS4 that homeless outreach workers, public health inspectors, mental health teams, and trash crews visit those encampments almost daily. They try to connect as many people to resources including shelters, motel rooms, as well as their families. But Wayne and others believe this response is not working and a new approach is needed.
“They’re not going to go away and they’re not going to leave the central core,” Wayne said. “The place we’re going to put them is land which is open that’s not being utilized and that’s these little city parks.”
He says there are about half a dozen parks the city could use around the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Wayne has also suggested the Denver Housing Authority or developers who have access to unused space, where construction has halted because of COVID-19, as a temporary site for the homeless. He says it would need to be a partnership that uses that property and provides city resources including access to water and electricity. The city has discussed a sanctioned encampment but has yet to release any updates on the process to create that option.
“I think that’s as good as you’re going to do,” Wayne said. “You need to address the whole problem and we all need to address the whole problem.”