DENVER — Denver and state police and public health officials cleared a large camp of homeless people in downtown’s Lincoln Park on Wednesday, citing the threat of the spread of the coronavirus and other disease due to unsanitary conditions.
About 200 people were living in the park, on the west side of the state Capitol, and they had no advance warning of the sweep, said Terese Howard, an advocate with Homeless Out Loud. Police appeared at the park at about 6:30 a.m., she said, adding the people moved had nowhere to go.
Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, said he ordered the sweep of the weeks-old camp as the city is monitoring a Hepatitis A outbreak among the homeless as well as the coronavirus. Deputy Director Ann Cecchine-Williams said human waste, drug paraphernalia and litter posed a public safety risk.
“This is a public health and environment issue,” McDonald told The Denver Post. He said workers had alerted camp residents they would have to move but didn’t provide a date.
The move came as the city is working to establish its first sanctioned encampment, estimated to hold 60 people. The city also says it offers more than 2,200 people a place to sleep, food and other aid in emergency shelters and hotel rooms procured because of the pandemic.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that cities avoid breaking up illegal encampments during the coronavirus pandemic unless there is a safe place for people living on the streets to go to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
The sweep of the camp, which had grown during the pandemic, followed comments by Gov. Jared Polis that he would welcome its removal. It also came after Denver began allowing the state patrol to enforce local city ordinances, including a city camping ban.
A recent shooting at the camp killed one person and wounded two.
Tay Anderson, a Denver activist and school board member, tweeted that he was shoved to the ground and hurt by police during a brief scuffle outside the camp between officers and protesters and that he was taken to a hospital for treatment. City police spokeswoman Christine Downs said the incident was under investigation.