At Least One Arrest Made on Fourteenth Day of Homeless 'CleanUp' (Video)
It's one step forward and two steps back for the homeless in Denver where the most forceful "sweep" yet took place this morning.
While we applaud the new efforts being proposed by Gov. Hickenlooper and initiatives like hiring homeless to work for Denver Human Services, the city undermines their own efforts and their reputation for compassion.
We cannot claim to help the homeless when their struggle to SURVIVE during the winter is made illegal.
This morning, police and Public Works employees showed up in their largest numbers yet. Homeless people with nowhere to go (b/c there are too few beds, b/c they have service animals, b/c they once broke the rules of a shelter, b/c they are in a wheel chair, b/c they have too much stuff to bring indoors, b/c they are a couple who doesn't want to be separated, b/c people regularly are bitten by bed bugs in shelter beds or get sick, b/c they are LGBT+, etc.) where forced away from the place they call home.
The full block surrounding Samaritan House was taped off. Cleanup crews came in. Our ally, PJ D'Amico (ED of the Buck Foundation), was arrested for refusing to leave the side of people in that area. The police then expanded their push for the first time this winter to the blocks surrounding this area. They warned that people would not be allowed to return.
It seems that for the first time this winter, the Unauthorized Camping Ban will be strictly enforced. Meaning someone sleeping outside is not allowed to have anything underneath or above them: including cardboard and blankets. There is no exception for how cold the night is. The argument is that this policy will push people to use shelter beds that remain empty. However, for the reasons listed above, this simply is not a legitimate alternative.
Denver's camping ban is simply wrong. This has to stop.
When signs were posted near the Denver Rescue Mission ordering homeless individuals to remove their belongingsand camping gear from sidewalks by November 15, many assumed that the city would conduct a large one- or two-day sweep and completely clear the homeless out, much like what happened on March 8 and 9 in the same area.
Instead, the Denver Police Department, along with the Department of Public Works, has engaged in brief "cleanup" operations in which the homeless only have to temporarily leave the sidewalk. These began on November 15 and have continued — sometimes multiple times a day — every day since.
The sustained harassment is a new police tactic and has caused many of the homeless to leave the area on their own, though others (who for various reasons have elected not to check into Denver's crowded homeless shelters) have been making a stand, only temporarily moving from the sidewalk when cops arrive, then returning as soon as the "cleanups" are over.
So far, the city has been reticent to issue citations or to arrest any homeless individuals who are in violation of the camping ban or public-encumbrance ordinances.
But today, Monday, November 28, PJ D'Amico of the Buck Foundation — who has been documenting police harassment throughout the two week cleanup operation using Facebook Live — was arrested when he refused to leave an area of the sidewalk that Denver Police had taped off with yellow "Do Not Cross" tape.
Below is D'Amico's last Facebook Live video, moments before being arrested Monday morning:
Tensions are running high for those living on the street, who have faced police contact for fourteen days straight — much of it during freezing temperatures. As of 10 a.m. Monday, there were two individuals who declared that they were not going to move.
At that time, the area was surrounded by seven Public Works vehicles, a dump truck and at least nine police cruisers.
DPD District Six Commander Ronald Saunier, who was on scene, told Westwordthat there are no plans to arrest homeless individuals, but he also did not rule out such actions.
"We're not letting people come back and break the law," Saunier said, referring to enforcing the camping ban and sidewalk-encumbrance ordinance.
Westword will monitor the situation and report any additional arrests.