City crews are planning three large-scale clean-ups over the next week in areas where people experiencing homelessness have been camping.
In an email, city spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn said the first would be Thursday along the Platte River around the intersection of 29th Street and Arkins Court, near the Salvation Army’s Crossroads shelter in Five Points. Kuhn said clean-ups also were scheduled next Tuesday along Glenarm Place from 21st Street to Park Avenue West in Five Points and Wednesday around the intersection of Washington Street and East 13th Avenue near Saint John’s Cathedral in Capitol Hill.
“We are seeing the areas become increasingly hazardous, in addition to encumbering the public right of way, and want to keep everyone safe,” Kuhn said. “At this time, due to the COVID-19 crisis, once each specific area is cleaned, people experiencing homelessness may return to the cleaned area, if they choose to do so.”
She said she expected each clean-up to take a day to finish.
On April 30 and May 1, clean-up crews collected about 9,500 pounds of trash in Five Points between 20th Street and Park Avenue West and Welton and Curtis streets, then returned a week later to wash the sidewalks with bleach and water. Some of the people who had been camping in that area moved their tents to the stretch of Glenarm where clean-up crews are to work on Tuesday.
Terese Howard of the advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud said the spate of clean-ups follows a period in which people experiencing homelessness had not had to move for trash removals and power washings. Howard attributed the hiatus to the stay-at-home order issued to try to stop the spread of COVID-19.
“For about two months they (city crews) held off,” Howard said. “There were almost no sweeps for almost two months. Folks were able to be more stable, which is more visible.”
Kuhn said no large-scale clean-ups were conducted in April following four cleanups between March 4 and March 11.
Howard said she was concerned the switch from Denver’s stay-at-home that started March 24 to a safer-at-home strategy that began in the city on May 9 would mean a return to frequent disruptions for people experiencing homelessness. The difference now, Howard said, was that officials were saying people could rebuild their encampments once city crews finished cleaning.
“It still is disruption,” Howard said. “But it is a significant improvement to previous sweeps in that people can come back.”
Howard said the city could address sanitation and health concerns by providing adequate portable toilets, hand washing stations and trash bins and regularly collecting trash at the encampments.
“There’s ways to do it right,” Howard said.
Denver Homeless Out Loud has set up four portable toilets in Five Points at a cost of $1,000 each a month and was hoping to soon set up two more, she said. The city also has portable toilets and hand-washing stations on the streets.
Since the first coronavirus cases were confirmed in Denver, the city and partners have opened 24-hour shelters equipped with cots and portable showers at the National Western Complex and the nearby Coliseum. The National Western shelter was designed to accommodate 600 people and has held more most nights since it was opened. The Coliseum has room for 300 women, and officials say both new shelters have enough space for guests to practice social distancing.
Other shelters had to close so that staff could be consolidated at the new shelters, so the move did not add substantially to the city’s shelter capacity. The city and its partners also have secured hundreds of hotel rooms and are seeking thousands more for people experiencing homelessness who are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the latest point in time survey, which gives a snapshot that is likely an under-count, about 4,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Denver on any given night.