The Department of Environmental Health, along with several other city agencies, began cleaning up a large homeless camp behind the National Western Complex on Monday.
“It’s not safe for the individuals living in those situations. There’s a number of infectious diseases that could expose themselves to, a number of injuries,” said Bob McDonald, executive director of the department.
“Certainly there were was a large accumulation of human waste and trash in the area that would present a risk to their health but also the environment.”
In preparation for the cleanup, the city spent several weeks in the area warning homeless people about the efforts and attempting to connect them with services. City officials did not have specific numbers but did say a number of homeless people were connected to services. That includes medical care, mental health care and assistance in obtaining legal identification.
On Monday, the homeless people were “strongly encouraged” to leave the area. If personal items are collected, they’ll be stored in a safe location for retrieval, just as the city did back in March when encampments in the downtown ballpark neighborhood were controversially cleared out.
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“While we don’t think people should be sleeping on the streets, and while we know there are some real public health and safety issues, this was a place for some temporary respite for folks,” said Cathy Alderman, VP of Communications for Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.
The organization believes this move only further displaces Denver’s homeless population.
“When we displace folks and we say there might be shelter space available, that is not always true and shelters aren’t for everyone,” said Alderman. “In this particular area there were a number of couples who didn’t want to be separated, and there is currently no shelter space for couples to use those services.”
Denver Human Services says 150 to 200 beds are available in Denver shelters every night on average.
The city says that as of Tuesday there were only five people remaining in this large encampment, a significant reduction in the size seen when the city first spotted the problem in August. They say this effort is as much about the health of the homeless as it is about the environmental safety risk.