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Denver Mayor Mike Johnston vetoes council bill preventing homeless sweeps in freezing weather

The city council passed the bill by a 7-6 margin earlier this week.
Denver Homeless Sweep
Posted at 2:44 PM, Feb 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-03 00:15:11-05

DENVER — Denver Mayor Mike Johnston has vetoed the city council’s decision earlier this week to ban homeless encampment sweeps in freezing weather.

City Council Ordinance 23-1960, introduced in December, aimed to revise the municipal code to prevent multiple city agencies from removing homeless encampments when temperatures 32 degrees and colder are in the forecast. It passed by a 7-6 margin earlier this week. Nine votes were needed to protect the bill from mayoral veto.

Proponents of the ordinance said it would keep people experiencing homelessness safer, as they say cold-weather sweeps pose health concerns to people being forced outside. Opponents say it would leave more people on the streets in unsafe conditions.

Johnston took the latter stance in a letter to the council on Friday announcing the veto, saying the bill would prevent the city from doing its work to move people indoors.

“Though well-intentioned, this legislation would restrict the city’s ability to do this life-saving work for approximately four months of the year,” the letter reads.

It added that Johnston’s administration does not intend to sweep encampments in freezing-cold weather without shelter available “with the exception of major public health and safety risks.”

The bill will next be addressed at the council’s Feb. 12 meeting. During that meeting, the council can vote to override the mayoral veto (nine votes would again be needed to successfully do so), refer it to a committee or postpone the discussion.

Co-sponsor of the legislation, Councilmember Jamie Torres of District 3, said she was disappointed but not surprised after the veto, saying in part, "At the end of the day, the clearest and most overarching exemption remained in this bill, which allowed our Public Health Department to make a public health decision when the city needed to clear an encampment under 32 degrees, exercisable at any time. We will come back to vote on veto override on February 12th."

HouseKeys Action Network Denver (HAND) said a freezing ban would not prevent the city from doing its job. In a statement, a spokesperson said the mayor's veto "has sentenced houseless people of Denver to more sickness, suffering, loss of limbs, and potential death."

Denver’s House1000 dashboard claims more than 1,200 people experiencing homelessness have been moved indoors since Johnston took office, though that number includes several housing “outcomes.” Only 310 of those people – about 25% – have found permanent housing, according to the dashboard. Another 700 have been in shelters for 30 or more days but are not in permanent housing.

One hundred fifty-three people were sheltered for less than 30 days but still qualified for the mayor’s count.

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