//The proposed homeless campsite at the Denver Coliseum would seek to eliminate encampments in residential areas, such as the one near Morey Middle School (pictured above). Photo by Esteban Fernandez | Este.Fdez20B@gmail.com
Editor’s note: Cassandra Ballard visited the encampment on Aug. 18, the day before it was swept.
Early on the morning of Aug. 19, the tiny three tent encampment at Glenarm Place and 29th St. was evicted after the Denver Police Department cited the encampment in violation of Denver’s Unauthorized Camping ordinance.
During the past few months, homelessness has become a hot-button issue in Denver because of both COVID-19 and the police sweeps of encampments became a daily occurrence this week.
Homeless encampments are often removed by police due to perceived public health concerns or complaints filed by neighbors. Police justified the most recent sweeps because of the promises made by city officials of more available shelter spaces.
However, the sweeping of the encampment on Aug. 19 struck many activists and city officials like Councilmember Candi CdeBaca as strange because the camp had a good reputation.
The encampment was one of few that was both small in number and consisted entirely of people of color, said both CdeBaca and Homeless Out Loud advocate Terese Howard. There are still multiple larger encampments throughout the Five Points area.
At the camp were Abby Hasen and her boyfriend, who declined to give his name, and Rose, who are all in their 20s. Also living in the encampment were Vincent Martinez and Tiley English, who are closer to their 60s.
“No one really knows why they were targeted,” Howard said.
The Public Information Office at the Denver Police Department said that the encampment was in violation of the camping ban and that the police were not required to give residents notice to move.
Denver’s urban camping ban itself was ruled unconstitutional by Denver County Judge Johnny C. Barajas in 2019. However, the county court ruling did not overturn the ordinance and the city continues to enforce it.
Denver police originally attempted to evict the residents the day prior on Aug. 18. The eviction was postponed after members of the advocacy group Homeless Out Loud and CdeBaca showed up in an attempt to stop the sweep. Denver police informed the encampment’s residents, CdeBaca and Howard that they would be given a week to move.
“I have seven days to move, and then hopefully I have housing lined up,” English said on Aug. 18.
The next day, English called Howard to tell her they were being forced out by the police immediately.
The sweep began after 8 a.m. with local activists and protesters arriving within the hour. Howard recorded the eviction through Facebook Live on the Homeless Out Loud page, which drew several newcomers to Glenarm and 29th. CdeBaca and At-Large Director of Denver Public Schools, Tay Anderson joined the protest as well. Neighbors from the house across the street came out and yelled for the police to leave the encampment residents alone because they weren’t hurting anyone.
CdeBaca, Howard and a protester who goes by the name Matilde March, said that members of the crowd counted 45 police cars surrounding the area. Howard said that at its peak there were about 100 protesters and equally as many police officers.
“With all of the police, I didn’t see a single social worker to help,” March said.
The encampment residents attempted to hold their ground with both activists and neighboring homed residents supporting the encampment in their attempt to stay. Martinez tried to stay in his tent to avoid having the police take his belongings. While inside his tent, he had a medical emergency and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. It took the medics close to a half an hour to get to Martinez because the police cars wouldn’t move out of the road. They eventually had to carry a stretcher from across the street into the crowd to retrieve him.
After paramedics took Martinez to the hospital, the police confiscated his belongings. The police told the crowd he had given them permission to put his possessions in the city’s free storage facility. Numerous sources dispute that Martinez gave the police consent to sweep his camp.
“I won’t leave my tent when they come to move me,” Martinez said the day before the sweep. “I don’t want to live in a hotel room. They move you around too much when they do that. I want housing, but I feel safe here with these guys.”
He said he wanted to stay close to Hasen and her boyfriend because they were a good team, protecting and watching out for each other.
While the ambulance was taking Martinez away, the police posted a notice next to Hasen’s tent, that said she and Rose had 48 hours to move their belongings. Hasen said that she and her boyfriend left to go to the hospital with Martinez when they realized the police weren’t going to take their stuff.
“The police said they would take us to a hotel, but they just dropped us off at the hospital and never came back,” Hasen said.
When the police never showed up, they walked back to the encampment to collect their belongings. Hasen said she had a friend who would let her and her boyfriend stay in their camper.
The sweep was also distressing for English, who struggled with heat exhaustion and fainted. Protesters were separated by caution tape, preventing them from helping the encampment residents.
Howard said Martinez was later discharged from the hospital and taken to a hotel.
After the police, the media, the city officials, and all of the encampment residents except Rose left, the police returned to arrest a protester they suspected of having a gun. Witnesses including March and two residents who live across the street said multiple officers arrested the person. Protesters attempted to “de-arrest” the suspect from police, which escalated the situation.
The police also at one point used pepper spray and batons in an attempt to disperse the crowd, although no dispersal order was given. Video of police hitting protesters was caught by CdeBaca on Facebook Live.
Some protesters said that the suspect actually had a BB gun, which is illegal to conceal.
After the arrest and CdeBaca’s arrival back at the site, the police dispersed and the crowd was left to clean up the area while wiping pepper spray from their eyes.
The hotel vouchers given to both Martinez and English only cover one night in a hotel. A friend of English paid for an additional two nights at the hotel, but on Aug. 22 English will be back on the streets and separated from her belongings.
The housing English was waiting for was postponed an additional 30 days.