To deal with trash, an Elyria-Swansea business owner rents a dumpster for a nearby encampment because the city won’t

He even got Candi CdeBaca involved.

The home of someone living in Elyria Swansea near the intersection of Columbine Street and 43rd Avenue. Feb. 1, 2022.

The home of someone living in Elyria Swansea near the intersection of Columbine Street and 43rd Avenue. Feb. 1, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
kyle harris

Auto repairman Troy Smith is trying to figure out how to handle trash from an encampment near his work. He runs an auto repair business near 42nd Avenue and Columbine Street, close to an encampment along the A-Line tracks in Elyria Swansea.

At times, the area becomes a de facto junkyard and even sees some fires. And it’s not just the residents of the encampment who dispose of their trash at the site.

“When people see there’s a big mess out there, they think it’s OK to dump there, and it just gets worse,” he said.

But residents of the encampment are stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they have nowhere else to live. On the other, because Denver bans urban camping, encampments don’t get the same resources as residents, like trash service.

An RTD train passes an encampment in Elyria Swansea near the intersection of Columbine Street and 43rd Avenue. Feb. 1, 2022.

An RTD train passes an encampment in Elyria Swansea near the intersection of Columbine Street and 43rd Avenue. Feb. 1, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
An encampment in Elyria Swansea near the intersection of Columbine Street and 43rd Avenue. Feb. 1, 2022.

An encampment in Elyria Swansea near the intersection of Columbine Street and 43rd Avenue. Feb. 1, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Smith said the neighborhood needs another roll-off dumpster for the encampment. But because the city won’t provide one, he said he’s footing the bill.

“I dipped into my pocket and spent money to do it,” he said.

He reached out to his district’s City Council representative, Candi CdeBaca. Her office connected him with the Department of Public Health and Environment, which sweeps encampments. He hoped the agency would be willing to provide his next roll-off dumpster. It seemed like a win-win solution that city officials would embrace.

CdeBaca was enthusiastic about the idea. It was just the kind of community-based, grassroots problem solving she’s inspired by, and she wanted to see city brass get on board. So her office put in a request to the city’s public health agency.

After mulling it over and a few rounds of nudging, the city turned down Smith’s roll-off dumpster.

“City officials are aware of this location and are considering various alternatives but, at this time, won’t be putting a dumpster there,” Will Fenton, Denver Public Health and Environment governance administrator, wrote to CdeBaca’s office. “I called Troy Smith … and had a good conversation with him. Honestly, I wish there are more folks like him, concerned about keeping the area clean but also sympathetic to folks in the area. I asked that he keep my contact info and consider me a resource. He thanked me and said he’ll probably just get another dumpster to fill and remove.”

Smith was disappointed and frustrated he had to foot the bill.

“If the city would work on it, it would make things a lot better,” he said.

An encampment in Elyria Swansea near the intersection of Columbine Street and 43rd Avenue. Feb. 1, 2022.

An encampment in Elyria Swansea near the intersection of Columbine Street and 43rd Avenue. Feb. 1, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Courtney Meihls, a spokesperson for Denver Public Health and Environment, said the city is instead considering fencing off the area.

“The area near 42nd and Columbine has presented health and safety concerns in the past and the city is working with property owners on a permanent solution, including fencing the area,” Meihls said. “We’re actively monitoring the area, and it will be slated for cleanup soon.”

Smith is puzzled why his request for support in cleaning up the mess in the meantime is being met with resistance.

“The city does not provide trash service at encampments,” noted Meihls. “It’s our position that no one should be living in an area that was not meant for human habitation, especially when there are city services available to help people experiencing homelessness. There are several outreach teams working in encampments helping to move people into safer housing options.”

CdeBaca has long argued against sweeps as the solution.

“We’re just playing Whack a Mole with human beings,” she said.

At the very least, she wishes the city would collaborate on fixes with residents, like Smith, who are working to clean up the city. His requests are basic: a place people could use the restroom and throw away trash.

“A porta-potty and dumpsters would make a huge difference,” Smith said. “I think it’d be a small price to pay so it’s not such a fire hazard [and] it’s not so filthy.”

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