A large homeless encampment was cleared in Denver on Thursday amid temperatures of -5C (23F), risking further controversy over the city’s approach to homeless people struggling with winter weather.
As in other western cities, activists are up in arms over rules that they say criminalize homelessness. Denver, whose homeless population is estimated at 3,700, banned “urban camping” in 2012. But in November, police faced intense criticism after a video that showed them confiscating people’s blankets and other outdoors gear, with bad weather imminent, went viral.
The video of Denver police confiscating homeless people’s blankets was viewed more than half a million times on Facebook.
In response, Denver’s mayor, Michael Hancock, promised that police would not take survival equipment when enforcing the camping ban until the spring. The city and its officials are currently being sued by several homeless residents over such policies.
“It’s an atrocity,” said Ray Lyall, a 58-year-old homeless man and a member of advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud, said of the camping restriction.
“They’re just trying to live. But the council wants to keep moving them, and they’re going to move them out farther and farther, and then next year they’ll be back where they started and we’ll start the whole process over again.”