By Tori Mason

DENVER (CBS4)– The City of Denver has conducted dozens of homeless sweeps this year, but encampments are still present throughout downtown. Small businesses are beginning to recover from COVID-19. Now, some are met with other safety issues they literally can’t afford.

(credit: CBS)

Rita Price was in her bar, Rita’s Law, when an unhoused neighbor broke in. She says nearby encampments are hurting her business near 22nd and Welton. She’s worried they’ll hurt her staff.

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“Since I’ve got back from the shutdown, there’s construction and homeless camps. It’s a different place than when I leased it,” said Price. “I’ve had people coming in and screaming and threatening my staff.”

The City of Denver will vote on whether to extend its contract with Environmental Hazmat Services, the company that helps with sweeps. The Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee met Wednesday to discuss, and homeless advocates don’t agree.

“An EHS worker snapped the resident’s tent poles as he was assisting her with storage as she stepped away to get water from the mutual aid table,” described Ana Cornelius, an advocate for the homeless.

(credit: CBS)

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Cornelius says she was at 77 encampment sweeps over the last year. She made a list of the mistreatment by EHS she claimed to have witnessed.

Margaret Medellin, Deputy Manager of Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, claims the city did not witness such behavior, but it’s not tolerated. Medellin says the department is implementing procedural changes internally that will help provide better oversight. Amendments to EHS’s existing contract will also be made.

“We are going to have sensitivity training to make sure that in addition to our staff, our contractors also know what the expectations are, what type of behavior and the respect we’re looking for. We won’t tolerate anything that’s disrespectful on our worksite,” said Medellin.

Price says she’s reached out to the city about safety concerns near her business. She knows homelessness is a deep-rooted problem with no easy answer, but her patrons’ safety should never be in question.

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“I want there to be a solution for the homeless. That’s what’s the most frustrating,” said Price. “If something were to happen to my staff or my guests, I don’t even know what I would do. I’m trying to figure out what the best option is.”

Tori Mason