Gov. Jared Polis on Thursday called the recent removal of a large homeless encampment near the state Capitol “a relief.”
“I was deeply troubled by the dangerous health situation in that area,” Polis said during a news conference, noting a recent shooting within the encampment, and the presence of loose needles at the park. “… I really think it was a great and important step by the mayor and by the city of Denver to help make everybody safer, including homeless residents and residents with homes,” Polis added.
Law enforcement and Denver public health officials conducted a “sweep” of a large homeless encampment early Wednesday morning in Lincoln Park near the state Capitol building, citing poor health conditions. Residents of the encampment said that they were told that they would need to leave the area in the days prior but that a specific day was not posted.
The sweep on Wednesday came a week after Polis said during a news conference that he would “welcome” the removal of people who had taken up residence in tents on state property around the Capitol building and the Governor’s Mansion. On July 24, Colorado State Patrol troopers gained the authority to enforce city ordinances on state property — including the city’s camping ban.
On Wednesday, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless sent a letter to the governor and the Mayor’s office condemning the removal of the encampment, and demanding more long-term solutions.
“The Governor seems to believe that ignoring homelessness and the housing crisis in Colorado will somehow make it go away,” the letter stated. “We know that our community cannot simply wish homelessness away.”
The letter stressed that “sweeps” of homeless encampments go against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines and cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This dispersal can also increase the potential for infectious disease spread.
Polis said during the news conference that the clearing of homeless encampments is not a long-term solution, but that the action this week was necessary to protect public safety.
“I don’t think anybody pretends that cleaning up an area that’s dangerous solves the issue of homelessness,” Polis said. “That takes a deep, bipartisan and regional commitment,” he said, adding that various cities need to work with the private sector and housing authorities to find a long-term solution.
During the news conference, a reporter asked the governor if he would comment on an incident that occurred on Wednesday involving Denver Public School Board director Tay Anderson. Polis did not respond to the question.
Anderson was hospitalized on Wednesday after Denver Police officers, according to videos of the incident, shoved him to the ground after he tried to break up a dispute between law enforcement officers and a homeless advocate. The incident was captured on video from multiple vantage points.
Anderson held a community press conference Wednesday night during which he encouraged listeners to focus not on him but on the people who were displaced during the homeless sweep.
This story will be updated.