On March 24, Denver City Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca joined with fellow public officials and community partners in issuing a petition calling on Denver Mayor Michael Hancock to end both enforcement of the camping ban ordinance and encampment sweeps during the COVID-19 emergency.
Such a step would bring city policy in alignment with the CDC’s recently issued Interim Guidance for Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) among People Experiencing Unsheltered Homelessness, which states: “Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”
The list of signatories will be updated as other community organizations and individuals sign on.
Homeless Encampment Sweeps Must End, Per CDC Guidance:
We, the undersigned, are calling on Mayor Hancock to immediately place a moratorium on camping ban enforcement and homeless encampment sweeps (so-called “cleanups”) during the COVID-19 emergency. Instead, in order to bring the City’s response in line with the latest guidance for the Centers for Disease Control, we call on the Mayor to continue and prioritize expanding housing and motel accommodations, health and hygiene access, and sanitized shelters with handwashing stations, social distancing, and more quarantine options. Without these changes, shelters remain unsafe for unhoused residents, potentially placing them at greater risk of infection.
As of 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, all Denver residents will be under a Stay At Home order until at least April 10. People experiencing homelessness are Denver residents too. So what does this mean for our community members without homes to stay in?
They are left with an impossible choice: To stay in a shelter with hundreds of others (increasing the risk of disease spread in closed-air, close contact with others). Or to stay on the streets in a tent, where there is more space and open air than in a shelter, but face orders from police and other city agencies to pack up and move or be ticketed. We cannot be both telling society to use social distance and telling the people who are doing that by staying outside in tents to instead enter a shelter with hundreds of people in cramped spaces.
On March 22, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued the following public health Interim Guidance for People Experiencing Unsheltered Homelessness: https://bit.ly/2QHf7zH. With respect to Encampments, the CDC guidance is clear and unequivocal:
-Unless individual housing units are available, do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.
-Encourage people staying in encampments to set up their tents/sleeping quarters with at least 12 feet x 12 feet of space per individual.
-Ensure nearby restroom facilities have functional water taps, are stocked with hand hygiene materials (soap, drying materials) and bath tissue, and remain open to people experiencing homelessness 24 hours per day.
-If toilets or handwashing facilities are not available nearby, provide access to portable latrines with handwashing facilities for encampments of more than 10 people.
Contrary to the CDC’s guidance, sweeps and camping ban enforcement are still happening in Denver; see here: https://bit.ly/2WvDFPQ. Continuing these policies will only put those individuals and the public at greater risk of sickness, without the gear they need to survive, and removing them from outreach workers and the services that still exist at this time. In order to succeed, it’s important for city policies to work in coordination. The city’s continued enforcement of the camping ban and encampment sweeps—policies that have the practical effect of displacing people—will only undermine the important work that’s already being done by the city’s public health workers, outreach teams, service providers, and other agencies in working with our unhoused residents and responding to the COVID-19 emergency.
Other major cities have suspended encampment sweeps to help stop the spread of COVID-19. For example, the city of San Jose published the following emergency alert on March 13 (https://bit.ly/2WzdSWV):
“Encampment Abatements: In coordination with public health officials, the Housing Department has temporarily suspended abatements of homeless encampments to avoid the possibility of unintentionally putting anyone at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.”
We call on the Mayor to issue a similar public health order for the city of Denver to bring the city’s policy in alignment with CDC guidance regarding encampments, and we also call on him to meet the demands of Denver Homeless Out Loud and the homeless community at large. Read their full demands here: https://bit.ly/2wlKAk2.
Senator Julie Gonzales, Senate District 34
Representative Adrienne Benavidez, House District 32
Representative James Coleman, House District 7
Representative Leslie Herod, House District 8
Representative Jovan Melton, House District 41
Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, Denver City Council District 9
Councilman Paul Kashmann, Denver City Council District 6
Councilwoman Robin Kniech, Denver City Council At-Large
Councilwoman Jamie Torres, Denver City Council District 3
Shontel M. Lewis, Regional Transportation District Director, District B
Honorable Joe Salazar, Former State Representative
American Civil Liberties Union, Colorado
Colorado Cross Disability Coalition
Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
Colorado Mental Wellness Network
Colorado People’s Alliance
Denver Artists for Rent Control
Denver Catholic Worker
Denver Democratic Socialists of America
The Denver Foundation
Denver Green Party
Denver Homeless Out Loud
Harm Reduction Action Center
Metro Denver Homeless Initiative
The Reciprocity Collective
Warm Cookies of the Revolution
Women’s Lobby of Colorado
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