DENVER (CBS4)- A homeless advocacy group counted more than 600 tents on a single night in Denver this month, many were in front of the State Capitol. The Colorado State Patrol spearheaded the encampment cleanup in Lincoln Park Wednesday morning.
The CDC says homeless sweeps should not take place during COVID19, but the City of Denver believes the Lincoln Park encampment is a public health threat in itself.
The cleanup is a joint operation between the Colorado State Patrol, Denver Homeless Outreach and the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment due to "unsafe and unhealthy" conditions at the site.
"We have an obligation to address this. Not just for the well-being of the community, but for the well-being of the people who live in the encampment," said Bob McDonald, Executive Director Denver Department of Public Health and Environment.
The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment says among homeless camps already in place, there's outbreaks of Hepatitis A and a bacterial infection that causes severe digestive issues, known as Shigellosis.
In addition to outbreaks of Hepatitis A and Shigellosis, there have also been cases of "Trench Fever" linked to the camps in Denver. The condition is most commonly diagnosed among people experiencing homelessness or living in conditions where good hygiene is difficult.
McDonald says the people who called Lincoln Park home were warned well before Wednesday's sweep, but many say they woke up to a garbage truck in shock.
"We had outreach workers and park rangers out here for a couple of days trying to connect them to services. They're out here today trying to do the same thing," said McDonald.
Homeless advocates came to offer support and ask that the people being displaced get more time to gather their things. Tensions rose when advocates arrived during the end stages of the cleanup.
"When the police had to activate and get involved in the situation, it was when the advocates and the agitators that were called to the scene after the cleanup commenced started to stop the progress of the cleanup itself," said Murphy Robinson, Executive Director of the Denver Dept. of Public Safety.
Robinson says people began to block the entrance gate that was erected for the cleanup. Denver School Board Director Tay Anderson was present saying he came to stand up against the "immoral treatment of our unhoused neighbors."
Police began to clear the homeless advocates away from the gate and Anderson was injured in the process.
Anderson claims the police "assaulted" him, pushing him to the ground where he hit his head. The Department of Safety believes Anderson's injury was not the result of police action.
"Anderson fell. It's unclear, so far, if he was shoved by a police officer. That is under investigation. If there was an improper use of force it, it will be handled and that person will be held accountable. It's also important to note that a lawful order was given and we needed people to move from the gate," said the Robinson.
Anderson received medical treatment and held a news conference to respond to DPD's actions later that evening.
One man was placed in handcuffs and led away by officers on Wednesday morning. Witnesses told CBS4 that the man jumped on one of the garbage trucks that was carrying away debris from the camp.
In the past, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has told CBS4 that there are other entities involved in the homeless camps, not just those struggling, and that there are radical groups involved in the resistance to get help to those experiencing homeless.
"This is very intentional. Let's not play games with the fact that we know there is an agenda behind this and they want to provoke the city, they want to provoke businesses, they want to provoke law enforcement," said Hancock.
Hancock said there are enough beds for everyone experiencing homeless in Denver to get a safe place to sleep.
There are concerns from neighboring communities that the homeless will move there, like the growing camp near Morey Middle School. Residents there say the camps are filthy and there have been incidents of sexual assault and other crimes in the neighborhood since the camp materialized.
Robinson said the camp located near Morey Middle School is next on the list for cleanup, although when that is scheduled has not been announced, only that it will happen "soon."
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