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Denver City Council narrowly approves encampment sweep ban during freezing weather

migrant encampment in snow - january 15, 2024 - north denver
Posted at 8:59 PM, Jan 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-29 22:59:29-05

DENVER — In a 7-6 vote, the Denver City Council on Monday narrowly approved an ordinance that bans homeless encampment sweeps when temperatures dip below freezing.

Under the ordinance, the city cannot remove an encampment if the National Weather Service predicts temperatures at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of the sweep or within four hours after the sweep is expected to be complete. However, the manager of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment can still order the removal of an encampment if there is "a condition that would cause greater imminent peril to the health or safety of any person than the threat to health posed by exposure to existing weather conditions."

Denver City Councilwoman At-Large Sarah Parady, who proposed the municipal code change, said it came as a result of newly available public health information.

“All of our Denver-area hospitals see dozens of people throughout the winter for severe frostbite injuries who are living unhoused,” Parady told Denver7 earlier this month. “And they have told us that has occurred when they have to leave their shelters. Tents provide a certain degree of warmth. So, if you have to leave your tent and use your hands to tear down your tent and put your tent back up, that puts people at a much higher risk than they are when they are hunkered down in shelter.”

Denver City Council vote on banning encampment sweeps during freezing weather 1-29-23

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and several citizen groups have voiced their opposition to the ordinance.

“If we leave them in their tents on cold days, I would argue it’s more dangerous, especially for those with substance abuse issues who may fall asleep in their tents,” said Dawn McNulty, who lives near several encampments on South Broadway. “They’re still going to get frostbite. They’re still going to die on the streets of Denver. And we have to do better, just as the mayor is suggesting.”

Johnston has the power to veto the ordinance. In a statement, a spokesperson for Johnston said the mayor will make a decision "in the coming days."

"Mayor Johnston’s first priority is keeping Denverites safe and healthy. We know that cold temperatures pose a serious danger to people living outdoors, and this proposal will limit the actions the city can take to keep people safe. He will make a decision on the bill in the coming days," a spokesperson said in a statement.

Denver councilwoman proposes banning homeless sweeps during freezing weather

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