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Calls grow for Denver City Council to override mayor's veto of ban on homeless encampment sweeps on cold days

'I am livid': Protesters voice frustration over mayor's veto
homeless camp in the snow
Posted at 5:45 PM, Feb 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-05 22:27:27-05

DENVER — Calls among homeless rights activists are growing louder for Denver City Council to override the mayor’s veto on homeless camp sweeps on cold weather days.

City council voted in January to ban homeless encampment sweeps when the temperature drops below 32 degrees, but Mayor Mike Johnston vetoed that ban just days later.

“He’s a liar because he campaigned that he would not have sweeps during cold weather. So, I have lost all hope in him," said Virya Kelsang with Mutual Aid Monday, a grassroots, mutual aid community in Denver.

Cesar Pulido, founder of The Give Back, which works to help the community in various ways, said Johnston has his own agenda.

“He’s a politician," he said. "He doesn’t care about us out here or anybody what we’re doing.”

At a Mutual Aid Monday event, advocates said they will continue to call on city council to override the mayor’s veto.

"I’m just livid," Kelsang said. "I mean, even if you do not like the unhoused, you do not like the encampments — that’s fine. Perfectly fine. But to make people move when it’s below 32 degrees and their stuff is frozen to the ground and you have to chip it up, move them and then put it in a new place that’s frozen — that is inhumane.”

“And they shouldn’t have to pick between getting shelter and losing their stuff,” Pulido added.

At a snowy protest this past Saturday, advocates for the proposal that would ban sweeps on cold days said the weather this past weekend perfectly highlighted why sweeps should be banned on cold, snowy days because it’s safer in tents, rather than being disrupted and put out in the cold.

“I was on the streets on-and-off for 12 years,” said one protester. “I’ve actually camped in -6-degree weather. This is exactly the kind of weather that we want them to stop sweeping people in. It’s wet, it’s cold. I mean, I can tell you my feet are soaked right now. My hands are soaked.”

The mayor’s office is unapologetic about its tactics and sweeps thus far, pointing to some major successes in just his first seven months in office.

“Prior to the Johnston administration, the approach to people living in encampments was just moving them down the block,” said Cole Chandler, senior adviser on homelessness for Mayor Johnston. “And we actually closed the 10 largest encampments in the city and moved those folks out of public space. And, in doing so, actually created, for the first time in my lifetime living in Denver, a downtown that’s clear of large encampments.”

Last week, a neighborhood group successfully won an appeal against one of the mayor’s new micro communities, only to see the mayor’s office turn around and reapply for a permit without any delay to the tiny home village construction.

Calls grow for Denver City Council to override mayor's veto of ban on homeless encampment sweeps on cold days

Advocates suggest the mayor isn’t listening to community concerns.

“I go into these hotels where he’s housed 1,000 people,” Pulido said. “I go in all the time. I’ve been in them constantly for the past three months and they’re all still on drugs. They’re all still mental. Like I said, I feel we need to address the bigger issue, which is mental health and addiction. We aren’t doing that by sticking them in hotels.”

Mayor Johnston’s office said it doesn’t intend to conduct sweeps in cold weather unless there is immediate shelter available.

This issue goes back before city council on Monday, Feb. 12, where council is expected to call for an override vote.

However, overturning the veto would take a two-thirds majority — nine votes — and only seven council members voted to pass the ban to begin with.

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