Mayor’s Office Says Will Not “Clear” Encampments During COVID Emergency, But Tries to Say They Can Still Enforce the Survival Ban
Displacement is displacement under any name.
On Tuesday evening March 24th, after a demand letter was sent to the Mayor in the morning from District 9 and a long list of other elected officials and community organizations, the Mayor’s office told the media that they “have continued to clean encampment areas but we are not clearing them during this public health situation.” Since the city has tried to avoid using the word “sweep” referring to their practice of displacing people and property at encampments and instead used the word “clean ups,” we followed up with the Mayor’s office to seek clarity on this statement. We asked, “when you say not “clearing” camps does this mean no one or their property will be displaced from that location?” The answer from the Mayor’s office was “Correct.”
Otherwise put, the Mayor’s office has said they will not be displacing people or their property at encampments during this COVID emergency.
However, the Mayor’s office is also trying to act like they can somehow still enforce the survival ban at the same time. In another media interview the Mayor’s office said, “the city wasn’t reconsidering enforcing the camping ban.” The statement that they will not be displacing people or their property during this emergency, and the statement that they will continue to enforce the camping ban, cannot coexist. Enforcing the camping ban, by its very nature, displaces people and their property.
The only way the city could enforce the ban and not displace people or their property would be to give people attainable housing they can move into now and stay in permanently. The city still does not have any plan to provide housing for all who are without during this crisis or beyond.
We will be holding the city to the statement that they will not be displacing people or their property at encampments during this COVID emergency. If the city sends police to displace people from public property – whether it be under the camping ban or under what the city calls “clean ups” or under any other law – we will be holding them to this promise to not displace our community during this pandemic.
Furthermore, in spite of the CDC’s guidance on providing sanitation resources instead of sweeping encampments, the Mayor’s office made no commitments to provide the needed porta-lets or handwashing stations to encampments. These sanitation resources are always needed, but especially now they must be provided directly at encampments. We will continue to demand the Mayor’s office follow through on this need in accordance with the CDC guidelines.
Denver Must Buy Housing for Houseless People as COVID Health Response
How are you supposed to self-quarantine, have social distance, get rest, wash your hands regularly, or any of the guidelines for protection in this health crisis if you don’t have a home? You can’t.
If this city is going to respond to the health of the whole community – which is ever so more clearly interconnected these days – they must buy or rent hotels, vacant buildings, or houses where people without housing can have the option to follow these community safety guidelines.
This has been done in other cities such as Seattle WA. It can be done here in Denver.
Here are a few vacant hotels or buildings we suggest the City of Denver buy or rent (or ensure vouchers for at least one month) immediately for people without housing.
Old VA Hospital on 9th and Colorado (1700 N Wheeling St Aurora, CO 80045)
Vacant Hotels Along Colfax
Vouchers for vacant apartments and/or hotel rooms
RV’s can be rented by the city and parked in government parking lots or other places for people to live
Any vacant city buildings or land should be used for housing (even tents if needed)
We also call on churches, community groups, anyone who has space to provide housing to a couple people in these times.
Furthermore, while the city is taking minimal steps to address our demands, most of these basic askes are still not being met by the city. We remind all that our resilience is interconnected. The lasting negative effects of the shut down of our city will have serious effects on those currently without housing, and those who will more likely be without housing soon…
Below are our demands we sent out on March 13th 2020 – noting what the city has done, and what still needs done:
Moratorium on encampment sweeps – Police enforcement of the survival ban is still happening. Just this morning some people living outside were woken by police. To have a real halt on jailing people for low-level offenses as the city declared they will do, this must include threatening people with jail verbally or with tickets.
Access to hygiene outside – The city has installed additional hand washing stations around town. This is good. However, they have still refused to place port-a-lets and hand washing stations near encampments where larger groups live outside and need these resources most.
Sanitation in shelters – The city is making call outs for sanitation supplies in shelters and is looking into opening a couple rec centers for additional shelter space. This is one step. However, we want to see this additional space is truly opened and that all the other sanitation needs listed in our demands, including dividing walls, are provided.
Health Care – There still is not any medics hitting the streets checking in for folks who need testing.
Moratorium on evictions – The city did state that the city will not be sending sheiffs to conduct evictions. This is very good. However, further clarity is needed on what that means for people who are facing evictions now or may face evictions if they cannot pay their rent. Will people have rent costs waived? Or will the city cover costs for those who cannot pay at this time? Will people not be evicted now only to find they own three months of rent later and are evicted with no way to catch up on the costs?
Housing – While the city is looking into hotel options this has not been actualized yet, and we are concerned it will only be for people who are showing symptoms and not include all those who are homeless forced to live in shelters and on the streets in vulnerable situations. We as a city and as a society must ensure there are housing options available for all to live healthy and safe. Please send the us and the city ideas for housing, hotels, buildings, land, ect that can be used to meet our communities need.
Demands of the Unhoused Community Regarding COVID-19 Response
Mayor Hancock’s declaration of the state of emergency leaves the unhoused community out with no protection. As people without housing are unable to follow the CDC’s guidelines without a house to wash up, get rest, isolate oneself, ect. our city must take action to protect all those without housing in at least the following ways:
Maritorum on encampment sweeps
Access to hygiene outside
Sanitation in shelters
Moratorium on evictions
(See further details below)
Other major cities have suspended encampment sweeps to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Earlier today, the City of San Jose published the following emergency alert:
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.
It’s on the San Jose’s emergency response website, here: https://www.sanjoseca.gov/news-stories/news/emergency-notifications. Denver should do the same (and to include a moratorium on Camping Ban enforcement). The unhoused are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. This vulnerability is exacerbated by being forced into closed-air, close contact with others (which would necessarily include shelters).
With the spread of COVID-19, we must remember thatour communities’ health is interconnected — we must ensure adequate medical care and hygiene for every person, especially those who are unhoused. We should resist any further stigmatization of those living in encampments or shelters. If the virus spreads to unhoused communities, we must ensure they are provided the resources to prevent infection and further spread of the virus. We insist that public officials follow the policies and procedures outlined below to best ensure the health of both our unhoused and housed communities.
Moratorium on encampment sweeps, closures and vehicle tows. Encampment sweeps and closures shall be ended due to the necessity for sustained public health outreach and disease control. No vehicles shall be towed that house people which allow them to self-quarantine. Stable encampments and sleeping accommodations will reduce the spread of disease among unsheltered and general population through consistent access to services and ability for outreach and health workers to provide continuous care. Stable encampments will enable better contact investigation and epidemiological controls necessary. With increased risk of disease spread at shelters where one is in closed-air, close contact with others, many people will not take this risk of staying at shelters and instead must stay on the streets where one can have more space and open air to protect from catching disease.
It may be necessary for local public officials to fund designated encampments staffed with public health providers, hygiene supplies, food and water, with the ability to separate by risk, infected status, isolation, etc.
Moratorium on arrests for crimes of poverty. Arrests shall be halted for loitering, camping, criminal trespassing, or other crimes of poverty.
Access to health and hygiene. Portable toilets that are regularly maintenanced and handwashing stations shall be placed in areas accessible to large unhoused populations and encampments. Trash cans shall be placed near encampments to reduce trash pile up. Hand sanitizer shall be distributed to unhoused people along with information about avoiding and preventing COVID-19. Many more portable toilets and hand-washing stations regularly stocked with soap should be placed around areas where homeless people congregate – along Cherry Creek, the S. Platte River, the neighborhoods around downtown Denver, in all parks. Medical care shall be provided on-location for those who are unable or unwilling to enter hospitals due to substance use or mental health concerns.
Housing accomodations.Housing accommodations, potentially including modular units, shall be arranged immediately for anyone infected who does not have the ability to self-quarantine, as has been done in the Seattle area. If necessary, civil facilities including temporary emergency housing or unused public buildings shall be used to quarantine those who live in a particular encampment or area. This shall include safe parking programs for people who are vehicularly housed.
Shelters. Staff shall regularly sanitize and disinfect surfaces to prevent contamination. Hand washing stations should be located throughout the shelter, not just sinks in bathrooms. Mats and beds should be moved at least 12 feet away from another. Additional shelter space may need to be opened to accommodate this space needs. City buildings can assist in this need. Churches should also take action to assist in this need. Individual isolation accommodations shall be arranged immediately for anyone infected and anyone who is known to have been exposed to the virus. Shelters should provide a surgical mask to each guest daily to reduce the spread of colds, flu and the coronavirus within the shelter and help guests avoid touching their nose or mouth. Efforts should be made by shelters to serve healthy food that will help to alkalize the body to reinforce the immune system and make the body inhospitable for viruses. Those staying in shelters shall have access to harm reduction tools and shall not be denied service for any rule violations short of violence. Shelters shall be opened 24/7. The city should review procedures developed for nursing homes to see what can be implemented for shelters. For example dividers can be used to create more space between individuals mats.
Moratorium on Evictions. No one should be evicted from housing. That housing is necessary for people to follow the CDC’s guidelines and try to protect themselves and the community at large from further disease spread. City police should be stopped from assisting in any evictions. Other major cities including Miami have made such a declaration ending evictions.
Health Care Emergency Response. Medical professionals shall be deployed to provide testing for people living on the streets and in shelters. All testing and treatment shall be free.
Consider this a wake-up call. Many of these services are necessary to maintain public health and should continue to be offered until every person has a stable home.