The Colorado State Patrol soon will have authority to enforce Denver’s camping ban just as Gov. Jared Polis said Thursday that he would welcome the removal of those living on state property including in the shadow of the Colorado Capitol.
The words stung people who are living in Lincoln Park, just across from the Capitol, and who are bracing for police or troopers to pull the rug out from under their feet once more. Many living in the park told The Denver Post on Friday that it’s not as though they want to sleep in tents downtown. Rather, they say they’re victims of circumstance with no place else to go.
“Put yourselves in our position, consider everything we go through on a daily basis,” said Sherika Oge, who said she has been camping in Lincoln Park for about six weeks.
“It may look like we all hang out and party all day, but this has become somewhat of a foundation for us,” Oge said. “It’s helped people begin to restabilize.”
The encampments are something Denver officials struggle with daily, balancing the concerns and frustrations of neighbors and the needs of those with no place else to go. At one turn, officials may offer addiction and mental health services but then they’ll break up the encampments with cleanups, more commonly known as sweeps. The camps move around the city from day to day, including one outside the governor’s mansion that was in place Thursday but gone by Friday afternoon.
The city’s controversial urban camping ban is being argued in the courts and officials are working with a nonprofit organization to establish Denver’s first sanctioned encampment. That new camp — estimated to hold 60 people — will allow city officials to more aggressively enforce the camping ban, Mayor Michael Hancock has said.
At the same time the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that municipalities avoid breaking up illegal encampments during the coronavirus pandemic unless there is a safe place for those living on the streets to go.
Still, city officials have made it clear they want the camps gone.
“The intention is for these encampments to come down, and they will,” said Mike Strott, a spokesperson for Hancock.
It’s unclear when Denver officials will take action, he said.
Denver Department of Safety Director Murphy Robinson signed an order Thursday that will allow state troopers to enforce municipal codes through Oct. 22. That means troopers can write tickets to people violating Denver ordinances, and troopers will be allowed to remove campsites near the Capitol and the governor’s mansion.
Denver’s safety department and the city attorney’s office will train troopers on policies, including the police department’s use of force regulations, before they began enforcing the camping ban and other city laws.
Although state troopers previously had authority over state property, troopers had to work with DPD to issue citations. This order gives them the ability to do so on their own, said Kelli Christensen, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety. State patrol will continue to coordinate significant enforcement with Denver’s safety department, according to order.
Oge sighed as she heard about the latest efforts to address homelessness in downtown Denver, avoiding eye contact and shifting from one foot to the other as she spoke.
“Now we’re going to be thrown back into an unstable situation,” Oge said, noting she has no other place to go.
While living in the encampment downtown, Oge said she could store what little belongings she owns so she could apply for jobs.
“It sucks having to go talk to a prospective employer with your tent on your back, carrying your sleeping bag,” she said. “You might as well not even walk into the interview.”
Others had harsher words for the governor’s statements.
Andrew Espinoza, who has been camping in the park for a few months off and on, swore when asked about it.
“They’ve got to put us somewhere,” he said.
William Pittman and his wife Merrissa Pittman acknowledged that the park is a mess. Even so, some scoured the area with rakes, clearing trash.
“The cops did this,” one man said, nodding at the clutter on the ground.
Shuffling needles taken from a tin box of illicit sundries, Merrissa Pittman said she and her husband try to keep areas clean wherever they go. They don’t camp in Lincoln Park but they spend most days there.
Polis’ comments are just an excuse for police to harass the homeless, Merrissa Pittman said.
William Pittman nodded.
“I may do drugs, but I still watch my mouth around kids,” he said. “I still watch out for people when I can. I still call my mother to tell her I love her and miss her.”
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