Protesters who snagged an impromptu meeting with Mayor Michael Hancock on Wednesday to discuss their concerns with his administration’s approach to people experiencing homelessness left the roughly one-hour meeting as unhappy as they were when they arrived.
Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Denver Homeless Out Loud activist Terese Howard and other activists pressed for a meeting after they unsuccessfully tried to enter a scheduled press conference Wednesday morning on the city’s COVID-19 response. A handful of the 30 or so protesters were allowed into the meeting.
In addition to the activists, the closed-door meeting included Hancock and City Council members Candi CdeBaca, Stacie Gilmore, Amanda Sandoval and Jamie Torres. Protesters overtook council’s meeting on Monday, calling for police reform and an end to systemic racism.
After the impromptu meeting on Wednesday, local activist Kenny White said Hancock made no commitment to stop sweeps. He called the meeting a waste of his time; he said Hancock called the sweeps a matter of public safety.
Howard, who was also in the meeting, said they would continue to call on the mayor to reconsider his administration’s approach to homeless encampments.
“He has to know, we’re not going to be quiet until he says, ‘No more sweeps, we’ll follow the CDC guidelines,” Howard said.
White called Hancock “unfit,” prompting shouts of “resign” from protesters.
“We’ve heard this f-cking song and dance over and over again,” White said. “People who have lived in this city throughout this administration for years have heard promises and got nothing.”
Hancock’s staff issued in a statement about the meeting, adding he wanted to “hear from members of the group on what they believed were actionable ways the city could further support residents experiencing homelessness” and if could act on the ideas they suggested. He said he looks forward to continuing the conversation.
During the press conference, in which he was providing an update to the city’s COVID-19 response, Hancock briefly commented on the protesters outside. He could barely be heard as protesters outside the room at the City and County Building demanded that his administration stop clean ups of homeless encampments. Hancock said he could not make out what the protesters were chanting.
“Let me generally say that we recognize that this is a very difficult time in the life of all of us in this country, certainly here in Denver, and we are not immune to challenges that have befallen cities all over the country,” Hancock said, citing police force and people who have been killed by police. “I am also committed to listening. I am committed to action.”
During the press conference, Hancock said efforts to support people experiencing homelessness need to be “redoubled” while adding the encampments that have popped up in the city the last few weeks are a public health concern for people living in them and near them.
Advocates on Wednesday called for more housing, sanitization programs for people experiencing homelessness, mental health services and to de-fund the Denver police department.
Danny Glover, a senior advisor in Hancock’s staff, spoke to the protesters after they met with the mayor to try to placate them.
“We’re just trying to get somebody to listen,” said Denver resident Kelly Magee, who was among the protesters outside Hancock’s office. “I’m really disappointed that it’s taken three weeks to have a meeting with people.”
The protesters decided to attend the press conference after Denver Homeless Outloud said Tuesday that the city would be conducting a sweep this morning near 13th, 14th and Clarkson. In an email to Denverite Tuesday, the city denied it was cleaning the area.
The protesters cited the recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation against dispersing homeless encampments. “Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread,” the CDC said on its website.
Before the impromptu meeting, the administration said it had blocked protests from entering the scheduled press conference because social distancing would have been difficult to maintain.
As that press conference drew to a close, several Denver sheriffs officers gathered inside the room. They eventually escorted Hancock to his office, which sits across from the large room where the press conference took place. He was met with jeers and chants from protesters.
This story has been updated with a comment from Hancock’s office about the closed-door meeting.