Survey: People experiencing homelessness in Denver were shuffled from block to block during pandemic sweeps
Advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud says most people didn’t see notices of a sweep and had their property taken away
People experiencing homelessness in Denver have likely gotten caught in city sweeps of encampments multiple times and moved to another block afterward, according to Denver Homeless Out Loud, a local group that advocates for the rights and protection of people experiencing homeless.
The organization released a 39-page report on Monday that was completed by group members and volunteers between April to August 2020. It suggests a majority of the 150 people experiencing homeless surveyed, or 89.3 percent, had experienced a sweep or the city taking property away. Most people had dealt with this at least once, with many people experiencing several sweeps over a six-month period. The most recent point in time count and survey for Denver in 2020 showed there were more than 4,000 people experiencing homelessness in the city.
Most people reported not seeing a notice of a sweep before it happened (the notices are something the city agreed to do after a lawsuit in 2019). Less than a third of people, or 29.3 percent, said they had seen a notice. Thirty-one people, or 20.6 percent of people surveyed, reported moving into a shelter, a hotel, with a friend or housing after a sweep. Less than 5 percent said they moved into housing, according to the report.
Most people, 69 percent, said they simply moved to another block nearby after a sweep. Denver Homeless Out Loud activist Terese Howard held a brief presentation on Monday at Civic Center Park to go over the report.
“I think this is one of the pieces that’s striking, is over 70 percent of people that we surveyed at some point moved back to a location that they had previously been swept from,” Howard said.
The sweeps, which data shows have ramped up in the last few months, are city-sanctioned cleanups meant to address poor conditions around encampments. Denver Homeless Out Loud, along with other advocates and members of the public, have been calling on the city to stop the sweeps, which they say can have a traumatic impact on the people being moved.
Derek Woodbury, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing Stability, said in a statement to Denverite the department is “squarely focused on the number one living preference expressed by this survey’s respondents: housing.” Respondents in the survey ranked living in a house as their top preference over living in a tent or a shelter.
“From the highly successful Social Impact Bond program, to new transitional housing approaches and a growing pipeline of supportive housing projects, we’re doing more than ever to deliver new approaches to help ensure that individuals are healthy, housed, and connected to services that provide stability,” Woodbury said in a statement. “We remain steadfast in this effort.”
The survey was written by Denver Homeless Out Loud and was completed when the city had largely suspended the sweeps due to the pandemic.
Other recommendations in the report include providing regular trash services and personal hygiene resources to people experiencing homelessness, ensuring camps of all sizes are given 7-day notices, not using police tape at sweeps, and improving communication to let people know where their things are stored after a sweep.
The full report is available on Denver Homeless Out Loud’s website.
This story has been updated to include a comment from the city’s Department of Housing Stability.