Liberation News previously reported on Denver’s non-CDC-compliant homeless sweeps in May, and as winter approaches, the city is continuing to sweep residents.
After a flurry of snowfall coated the streets of Denver on the morning of November 24, the city announced that it would carry out a massive homeless sweep of approximately 300 unhoused people the following week. The encampment residents, currently living next to a vacant lot on Arkins Court on the outskirts of downtown Denver, are no strangers to sweeps. Many of them arrived at Arkins Court after Denver Police forcibly removed them from other encampments during the dozens of sweeps in recent months.
The Center for Disease Control has explicitly advised against destroying encampments amid the COVID-19 pandemic, warning that doing so will accelerate the spread of the virus. Despite the warning, Denver officials have forcibly removed hundreds of unhoused Denver residents from encampments since the CDC issued their recommendation in March. Week after week, Denver city and “public health” workers have seized and destroyed tents, food, water, blankets, and clothing from the most vulnerable residents in the city, as a cadre of armed police officers stood by to issue a silent threat to anybody who might object.
Ironically, the city often uses “public health” as an excuse to violently displace residents without warning, citing excess trash, human waste near the camps and the spread of infectious diseases like Hepatitis A. However, the city provides little-to-no resources like portable toilets, dumpsters and healthcare to residents who are already struggling to survive. Those without homes are forced to live near their own garbage, struggle to find bathrooms and fear contracting deadly diseases. Denver officials then use this to create vilifying narratives about the homeless.
The victims of these encampment sweeps have been forced to watch their personal belongings thrown into dump trucks, before being told to “move along.” The obvious question, “Where are we supposed to move along to?” has typically been answered with a silent sneer. In the best of times, Denver’s homeless shelters lack the capacity to provide for its 5,000 unhoused residents, an estimate homeless advocacy groups say is almost certainly low.
In addition, shelters in the last eight months have been overcrowded epicenters for COVID-19 outbreaks.
Choosing to avoid disease-ridden shelters, hundreds of residents who have been pushed out during the sweeps gathered together at 29th Street and Arkins Court. The encampment sits next to a vacant lot beyond the outskirts of the downtown area; abandoned lots, construction sites, and vacant luxury apartment units abound in the rapidly gentrifying RiNo and Curtis Park districts of Denver.
While in one breath Mayor Michael Hancock greenlights the use of tents on sidewalks for restaurants, with his next breath he instructs his police force to remove unhoused residents from tents alongside a vacant lot — endangering the entire Denver community in the process. Some 420,000 Coloradans are currently facing eviction and the risk of homelessness, and the so-called “progressive” state and city governments have nothing to offer except more displacement, more property destruction, and more violence. As the encampment at Arkins Court proves, homeless sweeps do not reduce the problem of homelessness; they exacerbate it.
The solution to homelessness is not violent sweeps — it is housing. Of housing, there is no shortage in Denver – 20,560 vacant units sit empty within the city limits. The real crime is that the city would rather force its residents out onto the street during a pandemic than jeopardize the profits of its wealthy landlord class. We need a socialist government that would oversee the production and distribution of housing for people, not for profits.
We need socialism, not capitalism – housing, not sweeps.