Hancock on homelessness: ‘Our No. 1 objective is to get people indoors’

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DENVER -- Mayor Michael Hancock said Monday the city's No. 1 objective in its battle against growing homelessness is to get people off the streets as cold weather settles in.

"We certainly don't want to render people cold on the street," Hancock said. "The No. 1 objective is to get people indoors."

Hancock spoke two days after saying in a statement that police should not take camping equipment such as tents and blankets while enforcing the urban camping law.

The ban prohibits people from using blankets and tents while lying in public areas. But Hancock told police not to take them away in an enforcement policy change that is in effect until April.

“We never intended to take the belongings that people need to keep warm,” Hancock said in a statement. “Therefore, I have directed Denver police to cease taking camping equipment, like tents and blankets, when enforcing the unauthorized camping ordinance through the end of April.”

The ACLU sent a letter to police and the mayor last week asking them to stop taking blankets from homeless people.

RELATED: ACLU letter sent to mayor, police

Video surfaced online of police taking the items from individuals when temperatures were below freezing.

Hancock said the tents and blankets that were removed were taken from three people who were in front of the City and County Building protesting the breakup of the camps.

"Our officers are out along with our public works officers trying to encourage the vulnerable population to go indoors, to take care of themselves and to be safe," Hancock said.

Hancock said there were 200 beds available Saturday night that went unused on one of the colder nights so far this season.

"It's healthier, safer and more sanitary" to have people indoors, Hancock said.

Still, the problem continues to grow in Denver and the metro area. Hancock said 40 percent of the people who have been found to be chronically homeless aren't from Colorado.

"There are very few issues that I've confronted as mayor or in my life as a public servant that is more complex than homelessness. ... Yet this city and this region is doing everything we can to address it," he said.

"The city of Denver can't do this by ourselves. It takes family members. If you want to donate, if you want to help feed the homeless, don't give it to them directly on the street. Give to the organizations that are serving them."