Denver police often order Connie Smith to pack her stuff and move along.
She has been without a home for five years, and while she sometimes couch-surfs, she doesn’t flinch from spending cold nights huddled out of sight on Denver’s streets or on the banks of the South Platte River.
But she’s not always safe.
“After dark it is not good,” she said one recent evening on a perch overlooking a path running alongside the dark river.
Sometimes the threat surrounding life on the street drives her to take shelter inside a Porta-Potty.
“It is nasty,” said Smith, 45. “But I feel safe.”
The number of reported crimes against homeless people in Denver climbed nearly 42 percent over a four-year period to 1,008 in 2017 even as suburban law enforcement agencies say more transients are being pushed to outlying communities by the threat of violence.
Denver police say their own uniformed presence in areas where homeless people congregate results in more victims making reports.
But advocates blame the increase in crime on Denver’s urban camping ban, which bars sleeping in a tent or under a blanket in public spaces. As camps are broken up, the advocates say, homeless people disperse from the safety of groups into more remote areas where they won’t be rousted by cops, but where they also are at more risk for crimes ranging from petty theft to assault.
Life on the streets is always dangerous and difficult, said Chris Conner, interim director of Denver’s Road Home.
“Street homelessness does not provide a safe refuge from crime, the elements and related public-health concerns,” he said. “We will continue to encourage those in need to come indoors so we can provide them with support services, connect them to housing resources when possible and support their overall well-being.”
Eighty-six percent of the city’s homeless either use the shelter system or stay in transitional housing and safe havens, said Denver Human Services spokeswoman Julie Smith.
But many homeless avoid the shelters, saying they are dirty, unsafe and breeding grounds for illness and bed bugs.
Police enforcement of Denver’s camping ban has resulted in constant movement and greater danger for those who live on the streets, said Terese Howard, an advocate and organizer of Denver Homeless Out Loud.
“When you are pushed to areas where you are not with your community, you are more in danger of having things happen to you,” she said. “The city is playing a game of Whac-A-Mole. It is arbitrary enforcement. You are not going to sweep homeless people away. They are living from one block to another, to different cities and back to the river.”
Law enforcement representatives in Lakewood, Wheat Ridge, Littleton, Englewood and other nearby areas say they have seen an increase in the number of homeless people living in their jurisdictions.
“This is a statewide concern,” Wheat Ridge Police Chief Dan Brennan said. “A lot of us are dealing with a higher number of transients.”
Littleton Police Cmdr. Trent Cooper said camps with multiple inhabitants have popped up on abandoned properties in the city. He recently talked …read more
Source:: The Denver Post – News