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Legally blind Denver woman says homeless encampment blocked her from walking on sidewalk

Homeless camp
Posted at 7:28 PM, Feb 04, 2021

DENVER — One Denver woman, who is legally blind and uses a guide dog in order to walk outside, said a homeless encampment near the Capitol kept her from walking on the sidewalk.

"I needed to go to the Civic Center station building, which meant that I had to walk around the corner and proceed north," Tambor Haven said.

As she started walking, she could roughly make out something in her path.

"There were tents on both sides of the sidewalks, and at a certain point, Micah [guide dog] would not advance because there was insufficient room for him to travel," Haven said.

The small homeless encampment near Civic Center station made it hard to pass. Eventually, she did so safely but not without fear of falling.

"I told them to move so that I could safely pass, and they were very angry with me and gave me an earful," Haven said.

While the incident caused concern for Haven's safety, Emily Schuman, the director of Rocky Mountain ADA Center, said it didnt necessarily violate her ADA rights.

"The ADA does allow for temporary disruptions in service as long as the state and local entity is addressing those as soon as possible," Schuman said.

Temporary disruptions could mean snow-covered sidewalks or, in this case, a homeless encampment, but it still doesn’t allow the city to wash their hands of keeping them accessible.

"If it’s a sidewalk, if it’s a bus stop that is owned and operated by the state, the city or the county, it is their responsibility to make sure that accessible feature is maintained and in operable condition," Schuman said.

Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said they’re sending a crew to address the situation immediately.

A statement also says, in part:
"While we often try to speak with people in the encampment about blocking the sidewalk, when we see a location with deteriorating conditions and encumbrances restricting access to the public right of way, we are legally required to post a 7-day advance notice of our intent to remove the encumbrances so they no longer block the right of way.”

"Trying to live with a major disability is very difficult, very difficult. I don’t expect the city to spend extra money on me. I just want the City of Denver to make it possible for those of us who are disabled to travel safely on public sidewalks," Haven said.

It's a delicate balance between keeping public sidewalks open for all and treating those living in encampments with compassion.