DENVER — Notices were posted Wednesday morning at Denver's Lincoln Park that it will be closed as the city tries to mitigate a public health threat which includes a large rat infestation, a spokesperson for the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) said.
Denver Police officers assisted health workers at the park, located between Civic Center Park and the State Capitol. Denver Police estimated there were about 100 people living in 40 tents on the sidewalks outlining the park.
“Denver Public Health and Environment has a responsibility to address conditions that we are aware of such as this that are unsafe, unhealthy and inhumane and that’s what we’re doing," said Anne Cecchine-Williams, deputy executive director for DDPHE.
Checchine-Williams said the department had monitored deteriorating conditions at the park.
“A preponderance of litter, especially food waste," she said. "That is attracting rodents and bugs.”
Health department workers pointed out several holes in the dirt they said were "rat holes." The department posted on Twitter Wednesday afternoon photos of hazards workers encountered including blood splatter, syringes, drug paraphernalia and propane tanks.
“This is a threat to the people who are staying in this park, to the people who are passing through this park," Checchine-Williams said. "It’s just not safe.”
Some of the homeless who were forced to move Wednesday took their belongings and walked across the street to Civic Center Park. Some didn't know where they'd camp for the night.
“There [is] no place for us to go. There isn’t," said a man who goes by "Sinner" on the street.
Sinner had been living in Lincoln Park for about two weeks. He's been homeless about two years and is used to packing up and moving.
“It can bring out some emotions," he said. “I mean like I said, you know, some choose and others don’t. Sometimes life just happens, man.”
Outreach workers were at the park Wednesday morning speaking with people experiencing homelessness, Tammy Vigil with DDPHE said. She said those workers were connecting people with resources and said that, on average, there are 200 open beds in Denver each night.
Denver's Department of Transportation & Infrastructure (DOTI, formerly known as Denver Public Works) was tasked with the cleanup, which Vigil said will include bringing in a pest control company to assist with the rat problem.
Checchine-Williams said the closure was not related to the city's homeless camping ban, which Denver's City Attorney said they would begin enforcing again this week.
“That is not what’s happening here today," she said. “We are doing this because it is an egregious situation here. It is a threat to public health and safety.”
Last month, a ruling by a judge declared the camping ban unconstitutional. Denver County Court Judge Johnny Barajas found the city's 2012 camping ban to be cruel and unusual. Denver Police put a pause on enforcement on Dec. 27, the same day Barajas issued his ruling.
However, on Monday, Denver's City Attorney announced that the ruling does not prohibit enforcement of the city code while they appeal.
The urban camping ban keeps people from setting up tents on sidewalks and in parks, and police can issue citations or arrest someone for noncompliance. This is separate from homeless sweeps that require people to leave public areas for the purpose of cleaning, as was done during the enforcement suspension.
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