Denver mayor says “unsanctioned encampments” aren’t an option for homeless

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said Wednesday the city will look to purchase hotels and motels to serve as shelters for the city's unhoused, adding "unsanctioned encampments are not an option."

Denver mayor says “unsanctioned encampments” aren’t an option for homeless

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said the city will look to purchase hotels and motels to serve as shelters as part of the overall strategy to help the unhoused.

“We proved during the pandemic that 24-hour shelters work,” Hancock said at a news conference at the 48th Street Shelter, which opened last week, adding later that the pandemic gave the city an opportunity to understand the benefits of 24-hour shelters and reconsider safe outdoor spaces.

Hancock also said Wednesday “unsanctioned encampments are not an option” for the homeless, and plans to launch a “civilian enforcement team” to oust encampments.

“House keys have much more power to change a life than tents,” he said.

The mayor’s plans are part of a three-pronged strategy that he believes will help Denver recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April, he announced that he will propose a $400 million bond measure to pay for projects around town and create new jobs, though his administration still hasn’t specified what work the bond money would fund — which strikes some economists as “backwards.” And in May, Hancock said he’ll increase police presence in certain areas of town to combat a recent wave of violence, as well as have officers partner with mental health providers and community organizations during those patrols.

Denver’s overall strategy for handling its homeless population — about 4,171 people according to the last full tally in 2020 — has received mixed reviews from experts, advocates and people living on the streets.

The head of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless lauded Hancock’s plan, announced in May, to buy a hotel in northeast Denver to house up to 200 people. But another representative of the coalition bristled at Hancock’s continued commitment to costly encampment sweeps, which medical experts have repeatedly called inhumane and ineffective.

In the last six months, Denver crews cleared out more homeless encampments than they did in all of 2020.