DENVER (KDVR) — Ahead of the first sweep of his administration, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and Councilman Darrell Watson visited a homeless encampment and talked to the folks living there. The experience led to listening and learning by leaders and the unhoused.

“I think the important thing about this cleanup is that it’s a lot different from things that have happened in the past. Number one, the mayor walking through here with the city council person for that district and listening and talking to folks,” the first-year councilman said.

The first sweep of the Johnston administration will take place Friday in Watson’s district. District 9 was also first up in a series of town hall meetings with community members to address the crisis.

“We had two town halls in the past 10 days and they both have had over 100 folks. Our good friends here at the Dream Center held one here on Tuesday night. What we are hearing from folks is that they want to keep talking, they want folks to hear their voices but they want action from this administration, they want action from me as a councilperson, and first and foremost: they want housing,” Watson said.

As Johnston and Watson walked down both sides of the encampment set to be removed, Watson said the walkthrough provided a way to break barriers that wouldn’t have been reached without coming in person.

“There are two folks we identified here today that we can actually get housing for tomorrow. Without this walkthrough, their steps would have been much longer. So, I think this is going to be very different,” said Watson.

He also addressed concerns about where folks living in the area will go as new housing options are not yet available.

“We hear the voices of folks who are concerned about the move but we heard, what I heard today especially, is folks are a lot more believing that there is a better path and there is hope for them in the future based on how this mayor and administration are leading,” said Watson.

We spoke with Jimmie Owens, a longtime resident of Five Points who does not have a home.
He was intrigued by the mayor’s plan and is urging others to be patient while it plays out.

“Rather than your personal thoughts or opinions of this person, there is something here to be sought after. Something much better than the current situation,” Owens said.

Watson said his biggest takeaway was learning of the barriers to service people living on the streets face that stop them from getting help. As a next step, he wants the council and the mayor to focus on removing those barriers.

“These folks are saying that they have been trying for well over a year to get some of the basics. For example, to get a caseworker to listen to them, to connect them to services, to connect services to jobs, jobs to housing. The period of waiting to me I think it’s a moral impact to our city. I think it is our responsibility for council and for the agencies within our city to expedite those steps. I know Mayor Johnston’s team is going to take a look at that and I know within District 9 as a councilperson I’m going to look into how do we shorten those times so these people’s lives can get back on track so they are not waiting through our bureaucracy,” said Watson.