Homeless camps cleared from Denver sidewalks

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DENVER -- They don't have places to call home so they stake out public property as their own. At least until Tuesday.

The city of Denver made good on its promise to enforce a law to remove encroachments from the public right-of-way.

Late in the afternoon, Denver Public Works employees moved in with protection from police to remove homeless camps blocking sidewalks in the area near Park Avenue West and Lawrence Street.

The homeless had fair warning, but some said there's nothing fair about what happened. They waited much of the day for what they knew was coming.

"Mayor (Michael) Hancock, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. This is no way to treat human beings," said Jerry Burton, who is homeless.

A peaceful protest ratcheted into anger when city workers and police arrived.

"You're violating the Eighth Amendment,” one man yelled.

"Only in America," another yelled.

"It isn't trash. Stop throwing it away," screamed a woman.

Workers cleared crowded sidewalks, tossing trash and boxing up to store the belongings of the homeless who did not heed the signs warning that went up days ago about the impending cleanup.

"Syringes. Debris. You start to get concerned about what can happen if you don't address the problem. That was the reason for the cleanups. So we really want to make sure that this neighborhood is safe and healthy for everyone," said Julie Smith, with Denver Human Services.

But protesters said the enforcement is a short-term solution.

“Where are the people to go? Moving people out of sight and out of mind is not a long-term solution," said Rev. Amanda Henderson with Inner Faith Alliance of Colorado.

"After this stuff is taken, then what? What do they do?" questioned homeless activist Yosef Bennet.

The city said the homeless can go to a half-dozen shelters where they can access vital medical, mental health and food services, to name a few.

"I think you have to look at it and say are you enabling these folks on the street or empowering them?" asked Brad Meuli, president of the Denver Rescue Mission.

He believes the cleanup will spur some homeless to make the difficult changes to turn around their lives. But several of the homeless said they've been turned away from shelters.

The three largest ones -- Denver Rescue Mission, Salvation Army’s Crossroads and Catholic Charities Samaritan House -- said they only turn away the belligerent and violent.

"We want to make sure everyone is safe," Meuli said.

The problems many say come from the homeless who simply don't want help.

"This is what a police state looks like," a protester yelled.

It led to a showdown between those enforcing the laws and those who said they have no choice but to break them.

"You're starting to see in Denver third-world encampments," said P.J. Damico with the Buck Foundation.

The homeless can start picking up their belongings Wednesday and for the next 30 days. Property not claimed will be destroyed.

But if the homeless bring their encampments back, they will get a verbal warning, then a citation and the third time, they could be arrested. The city said it’s a last resort and it hopes it doesn’t come to that.

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