KUSA – Staying warm is never easy for people who sleep on the streets of Denver. But homeless people in the city now at least have the peace of mind knowing that their blankets won’t be taken from them.
Over the weekend, Mayor Michael Hancock announced a change to the enforcement of Denver’s urban camping ban. The ordinance, passed in 2012, prohibits people from using things like blankets and tents while lying in public areas. Hancock now says that he’s instructed Denver Police not to take away blankets and tents from the homeless while enforcing the camping ban. The temporary change to enforcement policies will be in place through April 2017.
“We never intended to take the belongings that people need to keep warm,” said Hancock in a statement. “Therefore, I have directed Denver police to cease taking camping equipment, like tents and blankets, when enforcing the unauthorized camping ordinance through the end of April.”
While advocates defend the rights of the homeless to keep their belongings, Hancock doesn’t think that the temporary change is enabling people to stay on the streets.
“The reality is, our number-one objective is to move people indoors,” Hancock said in an interview with 9NEWS on Monday morning. “We see nothing compassionate about saying it's ok for you to sleep in the sidewalks or in our parks… we want to move you indoors. We are sheltering more than three-thousand people a night in this city.”
But Hancock says some of those shelter beds go unused.
“This Saturday, alone, we had two-hundred beds that were available after folks moved inside,” he said adding that the city is working on developing lasting solutions to homelessness.
“So we're working with shelter providers and a shelter task force... to encourage people, for their own good, to move indoors,” he said.
Hancock says that police have only taken away tents and blankets from three people this year. All three were camped out in front of the city and county building. Hancock says they’d received advanced warning.
A statement from the city reads: “When enforcing the unauthorized camping ordinance, Denver police provide several verbal and written warnings before they issue a citation. Per the ordinance, officers request wellness checks by human services professionals for individuals found camping outdoors in the city.”
Hancock says the recent lawsuit filed on behalf of homeless people who have had their belongings taken had nothing to do with temporarily changing enforcement of the camping ban.