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Denver councilwoman proposes banning homeless sweeps during freezing weather

Those opposed say the plan further endangers the unhoused by not offering shelter when temperatures drop below freezing.
Denver homeless sweep
Posted at 5:34 PM, Jan 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-08 20:14:18-05

DENVER — Denver City Councilwoman At-Large Sarah Parady has proposed a ban on homeless encampment sweeps when temperatures drop below freezing.

“Before you go and do any kind of enforcement that includes removing someone’s shelter, first you go and check the temperatures and you find a window of time when it’s going to be above 32 degrees,” Parady said. “We have those windows all winter long.”

Parady’s proposal would prohibit sweeps of any kind when the temperature falls below freezing. She said the plan is the 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 said. “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.”

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Mayor Mike Johnston and several outspoken citizen groups oppose Parady’s proposal.

“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.”

Patricia Watson, who is the manager of a real estate company with property near 22nd and Champa, agrees with McNulty. Watson said Parady’s talking points offer nothing more than a false narrative.

“The worst place to be if you’re experiencing homelessness is in a tent with sub-freezing temperatures,” Watson said. “Your water is no longer drinkable because it’s frozen. You can’t go to the restroom without exposing yourself to the elements. You should be in a warming shelter. I think they should actually increase the sweeping of encampments when there’s freezing temperatures. That seems more humane than leaving people in the streets. You’re decreasing the risk of frostbite if someone is in a warm shelter, not increasing it.”

Denver City Council will hear arguments on both sides Monday night. Johnston is continuing his push to house 2,000 individuals by the end of 2024.

“We have to do something,” McNulty said. “We have to do better.”

Parady’s plan would need seven city council votes to move forward after Monday night. Ultimately, her proposal would need nine council votes on its second reading next week to overcome any potential veto by the mayor.

Denver councilwoman proposes banning homeless sweeps during freezing weather

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