The City of Denver is cracking down on homelessness this week with a plan to dismantle and destroy homeless camps downtown on Mar. 8. The camps being targeted are near the Samaritan House along Broadway, Park Ave., and Lawrence Street as well as a few others on surrounding blocks. The move is being met with both applause and chagrin from those on all sides of the issue.
Some 75 people are estimated to live in the camps along the sidewalks and streets in the area, leading many to have concerns about the conditions there. Officials have called it an “unsafe, unhealthy, unsanitary and inhumane situation.” But homeless rights activists are speaking out and planning a rally to protest the dismantling, set to take place Tuesday morning during the sweeps.
“It is unfortunate that the City is moving more aggressively to enforce the camping ban and other laws that criminalize homelessness at this time. We agree that the current conditions of people on the streets is not sustainable but criminalization is not the answer,” said the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in a statement.
The criminalization they refer to is that many homeless in the area who are unwilling or unable to leave by the deadline may be cited for violating the order. After all, if somebody is on the streets, fining them is not likely to do anything other than to force them even further underground.
But others are quick to point out that the homeless camping in the area have other options. Shelters in the area have been sitting well below capacity — the Denver Rescue Mission in particular has only been at 79 percent capacity while the camp has continued to grow. The newly built Lawrence Community Center, mere blocks away, recently opened as well following a lengthy court battle.
“The cleanups are an important step in maintaining a safe community but also encouraging people in need of services to seek them out. It is simply unsafe for people to sleep outside on the sidewalk,” Denver Rescue Mission’s Alexxa Gagner told byteclay.com. “Everyone, the city, neighborhoods, police and homeless providers are working together to encourage those experiencing homelessness to come off the streets and use the available facilities.”
While everybody agrees that leaving the camps out on the sidewalks is simply not sustainable for homeless and other denizens of the area, a compromise has been elusive. The facilities are certainly available to many, but the restrictions and rules placed on their users can be problematic for many.
“I know that if it wasn’t for these shelters, there would be a lot more hungry people on the streets,” said Daniel Dishman, one of the affected people. “But a lot of people, for different reasons, aren’t social and don’t want to be confined with or around other people inside.”
To be sure, this move is a far cry from what Los Angeles did last month when they seized donated homes and threw homeless people back on the streets. It is, however, a very drastic move that may be more aggressive than what the situation calls for.