DENVER — People camping near Denver’s homeless shelters packed up their belongings Tuesday before city workers started removing bags, tarps, shopping carts and other items left on sidewalks.
The Mile High City is another fast-growing metropolis struggling with what to do about homeless camps as affordable housing becomes scarcer. Construction cranes dot the skyline, but people drawn to Denver’s outdoor, yet urban lifestyle are willing to pay rising rents.
The city has spent months urging the campers on the edge of downtown near the Coors Field baseball stadium to move into shelters and get rid of makeshift structures that officials say pose a health hazard. They posted notice of the crackdown Monday.
The area has long been a hub for homelessness, with the city’s two shelters located there, but the neighborhood is changing. More apartments are going up, and it is becoming increasingly popular for bars and restaurants.
Some of the campers who remained until Tuesday said they would move elsewhere rather than sleep in a crowded shelter. Shirley Cherrysseed said the city should set aside a designated area for homeless people to camp.
“It is just stupid. They are being unreasonable,” she said before the cleanup started.
Police accompanied the city crews clearing the sidewalks. A half-dozen protesters shouted from across a busy street, accusing the workers of stealing, but no one interfered with the cleanup.
Officials stressed that things, not people, were being removed. Until recently, the area was lined with many more camps, some with tarps tied to trees for shelter.
Crews have been cleaning the area three times a week, finding human waste, needles and discarded food, and the situation is nearing a crisis, city spokeswoman Julie Smith said.
“This unsafe, unhealthy, unsanitary and inhumane situation must be addressed,” she said.
While more shelter beds are available, homeless advocates say not everyone should be forced to stay in them. A crowded shelter may not be a good place for people with mental illness and others don’t want to leave their partners or dogs, said Cathy Alderman, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.
Denver’s move comes a week after crews in San Francisco cleared out a homeless camp under a freeway overpass that city officials had declared a health hazard. In Seattle, city-sanctioned homeless encampments have opened and parking lots are available where people living in RVs and cars can park and have access to toilets and social services.
Denver native Josh Lampkin, who helps clean up trash near the homeless camps, said he ended up living on the streets after being released from prison.
He said he likes the energy from a downtown that has transformed into a hotspot of bars and clubs, but he wonders if there is room for those whose lives don’t go smoothly.
“It’s a city. People go through things. That’s life,” he said.
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