Denver Clears Homeless Camp Without Providing Shelter
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Denver Clears Homeless Camp Without Providing Shelter

Alexandra Holt woke up to police asking her to pack up her tent and leave the homeless encampment at 8th Avenue and Navajo Street where she had lived for a month.

“We hoped we’d wake up to housing,” she said.

But that wasn’t the case.

For the first time in six months, Denver cleared a homeless encampment without offering shelter. Mayor Mike Johnston had previously stated the city wouldn’t do so.

This situation highlights the challenges facing Johnston, who has made addressing homelessness a top priority. During his mayoral campaign, Johnston pledged to tackle the issue in his first term.

While homeless individuals have sometimes been unable to access shelter after encampment clearings, this is the first time space limitations were cited by the Johnston administration as the reason for not offering shelter.

Denver’s struggle to house its homeless population coincides with the city’s response to the immigration crisis, where support for immigrants was extended to six months, but with only about 1,000 spaces available. The mayor’s shift came after unsuccessful attempts to secure federal aid and significant budget cuts, as nearly 41,000 migrants were served by Denver since late 2022.

Both populations face a common challenge — housing.

According to Jose Salas, a spokesperson for Johnston, there wasn’t enough vacant space in Denver’s shelters to accommodate the 138 homeless individuals at the Navajo Street encampment. Although plans were initially made to house these residents, the encampment grew too rapidly for available shelter space.

The decision to clear the encampment was described as “difficult” by the mayor’s spokesperson, citing public health and property infringement concerns. Despite this, some encampment residents defended their living conditions, highlighting the lack of trash cans and bathrooms.

As the encampment was cleared, Holt expressed feeling trapped and uncertain about her next steps. She mentioned heading to a Regional Transportation District light rail station, but traveling alone made her feel scared.

The expectation that housing would be provided following encampment sweeps has led to frustration among homeless individuals when no shelter is offered. Without housing, some fear that tents will simply go back up after clearings, perpetuating the cycle of homelessness.

Addressing the issue of homelessness remains a significant challenge for Denver, with the need for sustainable housing solutions becoming increasingly urgent.

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