Follow Up


Activists, City of Denver spar over homeless encampment clean-up policies

The city hired an "encampment executive" last year to help manage sweeps
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Homeless camp sweep notice
Posted at 4:26 PM, Mar 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-31 22:58:23-04

DENVER — For many of those living on Denver streets, it can feel like being forgotten.

“Forgotten,” said Danny Maestas. “Just brushed aside.”

Such was the case for Maestas this past winter.

“It started back in January during the cold spell,” Maestas said. “I started noticing the frostbite. And then February comes around, and it progressively got worse and worse. There was no place to go. I was basically supposed to stay under a tarp, and it got worse. My foot became to the point where they had to amputate.”

Maestas' right leg was amputated below the knee. He also lost all five toes on his left foot.

Maestas worked at a local convenience store part-time and would restock and clean the store overnight, but his frostbite injuries made it impossible for him to continue working.

Homeless advocates say Maestas' case is the result of the city’s constant sweeps. Just this week, a sweep was conducted around Coors Field ahead of the Colorado Rockies home opener.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Coors Field is one of the targets,” Grant Francis with Mutual Aid Monday told Denver7 on Tuesday. “It’s anywhere where there’s an event that generates any kind of income for the city.”

The city responded Friday saying that’s simply untrue.

“Our city policy never changes,” said Matthew Wilmes, encampment program response executive with the City of Denver. “Of the 10 large encumbrance removals that we’ve done in the last month, two of them were in the ballpark area. And the reason for that is they were some of the largest that we were dealing with.”

Wilmes’ position was created last June in response to the street camping crisis.

“Every person on the street has a different need, a different story,” Wilmes said. “Unfortunately, there’s also the need for the addressing of public health and safety issues that these camps can pose.”

Wilmes says the city is committed to the safety of both the unhoused and the general public.

“This is always going to be a point of contention,” he said. “We removed almost three tons of trash and over 200 pounds of propane. And that’s not to include the improperly disposed of needles and human waste.”

As for long-term solutions, all agree it’s housing, but what kind of housing and how to pay for it is a debate itself.

Some Denver mayoral candidates suggest it can be solved in a year or two. Wilmes does not agree.

“I do not,” Wilmes said. “I don’t think it would be feasible for anybody in a year.”

Wilmes says the city must continue to become more centralized and organized in their response.

“Even during all these enforcement actions and clean-ups, we are constantly striving to make sure we get people connected with services," Wilmes said. "The hard part is that many people don’t take us up on that. We offer many alternatives to just traditional shelter. We have tiny home villages, we have our safe outdoor spaces, as well as the utilization of hotels and motels when that’s necessary.”

“The solution is housing,” said Maestas. “Housing will remedy this whole epidemic that we have right now of homelessness that you see everywhere. Housing is the number one solution.”

“I would love to work myself out of a job,” Wilmes said. “It would be great to show up one day to work and say, "I don’t have a clean-up. There’s no clean-up necessary."”

As for Maestas, he is now on the road to recovery and hoping to find permanent housing soon.

“Taking it one day at a time. And hopefully the new mayor will see this epidemic that we have and do something about it,” Maestas said.

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