//A protester is allowed through the police line with large trash bags to help residents pack up what they can as Denver police sweep the houseless encampment at 29th Street and Arkins Court on Nov. 30. Photo by Madeleine Kelly | firstname.lastname@example.org
Update: There are multiple estimates for the population of the encampment from city officials, homeless advocacy groups and activists, ranging from 100 to 300 residents. This article has been updated to reflect that information.
Like others at the former houseless encampment at 29th Street and Arkins Court, Samantha Hudson was doing her best to keep her life straight.
Her two small children depend on it. However, due to her criminal history, she’s unable to access placement at one of the city’s homeless shelters. She can’t get a hold of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless for housing help and she’s been banned from the office that provides hotel vouchers. She said she experienced rude behavior from the employees there.
“I’m living here, and here they’re destroying the only homes that we have,” she said. “And now we have to figure out where we can put a tent again.”
Today, Denver continued its game of whack-a-mole against houseless encampments. Camp occupants, meanwhile, suffered. According to Denverite, the Director of Public Health Inspections of Denver’s public health department, Danica Lee, said somewhere between 90 and 100 people lived in the encampment.
However, that number is disputed by activists. They, along with camp residents say that the camp’s population was closer to 300. Westword also reported that the staff at Salvation Army Crossroads homeless shelter estimated between 150-200 people lived at the camp.
In keeping with a pattern established by city leaders, the encampment at 29th and Arkins was swept on Nov. 30 by police and city workers. It’s a pattern that has been repeated all over the city, with houseless residents being told to relocate to a new site only to have the new location swept away a few weeks later. The city gave notice due to deteriorating conditions and encumbrances to the public right of way, similar to reasons given for previous sweeps.
Josh Malin, who’s been on the streets for a little over four years, said he’s seen people be told to come here.
“I’ve seen it on 21st and Market, 22nd and Champa. They have told us to move from there and come here,” Malin said. “That we had until Monday, today. And today they tell us that they’re fencing it off. And they’re making us move again. There’s not many more places we can go.”
As State Reps. Matt Ryan and Larry Liston touted the recent success of the stock market at the special session of Colorado’s General Assembly on Monday, houseless residents were being forced out of their encampment. The celebration of the rise in the market is one those forced out of their homes by the pandemic are exempt from partaking in.
Several houseless residents decried the inadequacy of city services. Garen Zamba sought shelter at the Salvation Army after being notified a week in advance that the camp was going to be struck. He said it was a miserable experience, where bed bugs feasted on him. He didn’t have that problem in his tent at the camp.
“I bought some chemicals yesterday. I begged people for change so I could get $50 and buy some chemicals so that I can stay safe from bed bugs,” he said. “I wanted to take care of my area but they refused to let me apply the chemicals appropriately. They said that, ‘if you apply the chemicals, it’s a health hazard.’”
Apparently, bed bugs don’t qualify as a health hazard, Zamba said.
Although Zamba is still at the shelter, he is contemplating returning to the streets again. The bed bugs are that bad.
Leading up to the sweep, activists maintained a strong presence in the days before, bringing coffee, food and aid. However, early morning around 5 a.m. they were pushed out by police and prevented from rendering aid. Coffee and food stations were removed. One such station was set up outside one of the entrances to the fenced-in area.
“Generally at these things, they wake everybody up and everybody’s groggy and need some food, coffee, before their lives get totally upended,” said Ben Paul, one of the activists present.
Elsewhere along 29th Street, protesters confronted police as they erected a fence to keep people out of the encampment. Pepper Balls were used by police and four people were arrested. Residents of the camp were allowed to go behind the fence to gather their belongings. However, as they retrieved their things an excavator scooped up tent after tent nearby, dumping everything into a waiting trunk. Among the most commonly lost items at these sweeps are IDs, and the sweep on Monday was no exception.
“We would like to get in there and help these people move their belongings, but they generally don’t let us do that,” Paul said.
Flanking the street that led to the campsite were two newer looking apartment buildings. A mix of curious and annoyed apartment dwellers looked down at the camp eviction from their balconies.
Daniel Patrick Decey, another campsite resident with no place to go, had a stark warning for the onlookers: It could happen to you.
“You wanna know what my last job was,” he said. “Working for the Mayor’s office.”
For more stories from Esteban Fernandez, click here.