By Stan Bush
DENVER (CBS4) - Denver city councilmembers got an earful Monday night from a group of homeless people who accuse the city of inhumane treatment.
The group used nearly the full public comment session at Monday's council meeting to condemn recent clean sweeps to homeless camps downtown.
"What is going on is psychological abuse," said Robin McClarick, who describes herself as homeless.
The city conducted a large clean out in March, moving hundreds of homeless campsites off the sidewalk. Denver's Road Home says the sweep was a public health necessity because people had taken to defecating on the sidewalks. The streets were power-washed and personal belongings were taken to storage for 30 days before the city discarded the items, many of which went unclaimed.
"I want them to stop and leave us alone ... if we're not bothering anything, leave us alone," said Shannon Wolf, who was involved in a sweep in March and multiple clean outs this fall.
Wolf says homeless people are being chased everywhere they try to sleep.
"If we not on the sidewalk and we're on the grass, leave us alone."
Sophia Lawson, an outreach professional of the St. Francis Center, accuses the city of not following through with a promise to help the homeless before the sweeps.
"The point of the sweeps is to get people connected to outreach workers who get people connected to resources, but that is a bald-faced lie and it's not true," said Lawson.
Lawson says the sweeps have long-lasting effects on the at-risk adults they target – often keeping homeless people from getting in contact with mental health evaluations, treatment, and the resources the city says it is trying to provide.
"Be honest about what it is doing to our community and then be courageous enough to find real solutions, because that's not what they're doing here," Lawson said.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock responded Monday evening in a written statement, saying the on-coming winter conditions are reason enough to get the homeless out of their camps.
"The fact is that it is simply unhealthy and unsafe to sleep outdoors, especially in low, winter temperatures. The city and our service partners have safe spaces during the day, beds open at night, and services at the ready for homeless individuals who are sleeping outdoors."
Hancock also defended the practice of the clean sweeps.
"The city's practice is to first try and connect people to services and treatment, and if that doesn't work, people are given notice, usually multiple times, before any enforcement action is taken."
The city says there are enough beds at shelters in Denver to get all of the homeless out of the elements. But many do not go for a variety of reasons that include pets, mental health, relationships, and fear. Denver's Road Home says the homeless who stay on the streets are typically people who actively resist help.
City officials admit the optics of the homeless camps are egregious and neighbor complaints have grown louder. But Lawson says the efforts taken by the city to routinely sweep the homeless camp away need to stop immediately -- saying they fly in the face of the city claim to treat the homeless with compassion.
"What that does to their spirit and their ability to reconnect to society. You're disenfranchising them and it's systematic."
Full Statement From Mayor Hancock
"The fact is that it is simply unhealthy and unsafe to sleep outdoors, especially in low, winter temperatures. The city and our service partners have safe spaces during the day, beds open at night, and services at the ready for homeless individuals who are sleeping outdoors. To date, shelters have not turned away anyone who wants a shelter.
Every encampment is different and the needs of every person are unique. But our approach to connecting those who are living on the streets with the help they need to stabilize their lives has been consistent. The city's practice is to first try and connect people to services and treatment, and if that doesn't work, people are given notice, usually multiple times, before any enforcement action is taken. These are complex challenges and we strive to be as compassionate as possible while also ensuring safety and public health for all Denver residents."
– Michael Hancock, Denver Mayor
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