‘They’re just trying to live’: Denver clears homeless camp despite controversy

The city cleared a large encampment amid freezing weather, just months after a viral video of police confiscating blankets from the homeless sparked an outcry

A large homeless encampment was cleared in Denver today amid temperatures of -5C(23F), risking further controversy over the citys approach to homeless people struggling with winter weather.

As in other western cities, activists are up in arms over rules that they say criminalize homelessness. Denver, whose homeless population is estimated at 3,700, banned urban camping in 2012. But in November, police faced intense criticism after a video that showed them them confiscating peoples blankets and other outdoors gear, with bad weather eminent, went viral.

The video of Denver police confiscating homeless peoples blankets was viewed more than half a million times on Facebook.

In response, Denver mayor Michael Hancock promised that police would not take survival equipment when enforcing the camping ban until the spring. The city and its officials are currently being sued by several homeless residents over such policies.

Its an atrocity, said Ray Lyall, a 58-year- old homeless man and a member of advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud, said of the camping restriction.

Theyre just trying to live. But the council wants to keep moving them, and theyre going to move them out farther and farther, and then next year theyll be back where they started and well start the whole process over again.

City workers arrived close to 9am at the site in a dilapidated industrial area in the northern part of the city. They looked on as around 30 homeless residents packed up tents, blankets, bikes and cooking equipment in trailers and shopping carts.

A basketball hoop balanced precariously atop one cart, while on another a woman carefully placed a pet carrier containing a black-and-white cat.

Once they had left, the area was cordoned off with yellow tape. Kali Gutter, who is 28 and two-months pregnant, said she was feeling sick, sad and emotional. She said she was banned from Denvers main womens shelter after a fight with another woman there, and feels safer on the streets. A lot of us dont have a lot of options, she added.

Amber Miller, spokesperson for the city, said that todays clean-up took place because the camp was on private property. The concern that we carry is that it is unhealthy, unsanitary, and unsafe, she added. Residents were encouraged to move into city shelters.

Around 150 people had been living at the site, according to one resident, although the majority moved on when the city erected signs two weeks ago warning that anybody who remained there risked a year in jail or a fine of $999.

Cory Donaheu, a man in his 40s who had a star-shaped scar on his left check and was wearing a gray overcoat, was sat on a bike next to a cart containing all his belongings. He had lived at the camp for four-and-and-a-half months. Asked where he was going to go next, he said he had no idea.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jan/26/denver-officials-clear-homeless-camp-controversy-winter-elements