Last week, the city of Denver swept away problem of chronic homelessness by removing hundreds of homeless people from makeshift encampments throughout the city. The City claims that their decision was made because of the public safety issues these encampments create for the homeless residents themselves and the public at large. They are absolutely correct. What the City is not prepared to address in any meaningful way is exactly where it is they would like these people to go. The shelter directors have stated that there is not enough affordable housing or enough emergency shelter to meet the growing demand. As a consequence, these people default to living on the streets as a last resort. I have for the past month spent a few weeks living on the street, trust me when I say that nobody is living outside because they want to.
Rather than develop thoughtful and compassionate measures to address this crisis, the City answered with an arsenal of garbage trucks and police officers. Denver, we can and must do better. The City claims they are storing people’s belongings and they can access them. That is an outright fabrication. Try finding your personal belongings in a sea of garbage bins. Hundreds of people have lost all of their personal belongings (including photos of their children). The problem has temporarily disappeared from public sight but the fact remains, people have to exist somewhere. It is our responsibility as a city to find adequate places for people to be other than the streets.
If we can build a world class light rail and airport hotel for visitors, shouldn’t we be able to provide adequate and compassionate shelter for our most disenfranchised residents. We are urging city Denver residents, city officials, nonprofit leaders, foundation leaders, advocates and homeless residents themselves to come together to recognize that this crisis must be addressed right now in a more constructive and compassionate manner.
We hope we can join in a concerted effort to develop the resources, plan and collaborative spirit necessary to protect the basic safety and dignity of every Denver citizen. Everyone in our city deserves to be somewhere safe to sleep tonight.
PJ D’Amico, Executive Director
The Buck Foundation