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Months After Cleanup, Homeless Camps Resurface

By Stan Bush

DENVER (CBS4)- City officials say the homeless encampment in downtown Denver is repopulating months after an order to clean out the area… and there is little that can be done to stop it.

In March, the city moved out dozens of homeless campsites to clean the sidewalks for public health concerns. Neighbors and businesses told CBS4 they thought the clean out would keep the homeless from camping there again.

Homeless Camp Removed From Downtown Denver
The homeless camps in March (credit: CBS)

"Since the beginning of the summer it seems like there are more people on the streets and sidewalks," says Stephanie Mills, who works at a nearby fitness club. "It just seems to be getting worse and worse as the weeks go by."

Police are trying to remove people who are trying to cause problems from the camps and get help to those who will accept it. But the problem is too big to fix in one fell swoop and the city cannot arrest the problem away. Still, the city receives complaints about the camping downtown daily.

(credit: CBS)

"We'll get calls from people who have one homeless person and they want us to 'Beam them up, Scotty,'" says Bennie Milliner, the executive director of Denver's Road Home.

Milliner says the city is trying to take a compassionate approach to helping the homeless, but getting the homeless service can be the greatest challenge and many of them choose to live on the street.

(credit: CBS)

"The optics are terrible," says Milliner. "We are the first to admit that."

Milliner says there is enough shelter space and beds in Denver to house the entire homeless population in the Mile High City, but a people living on the street, particularly those in downtown, are resisting the help.

"We have to make sure we tie service to this otherwise we won't break the cycle."

CBS4 began looking into the issue after viewers complained of the worsening camp problem in the area.

(credit: CBS)

On Saturday, a shooting in the area left stray bullets into a resident's home. The resident blames the incident of drug dealers, but said the drug activity is following the homeless population because they are vulnerable.

City officials say the area at the corner of Lawrence Street and Park Avenue West is a hot spot for homeless camps. Public transportation is nearby, along with the 16th Street Mall, numerous restaurants; because the charities there own the land, the homeless are looking for help and services.

Milliner says once a few camps start up, more follow, looking for protection in a large group, "They're camping there as a defense mechanism."

Stan Bush is a general assignment reporter at CBS4. His stories can be seen on CBS4 News at 10. Read his bio and follow him on Twitter @StanBushTV.

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