The Denver homelessness problem is starting to come to a head if recent events are any indication. With developers coming in and tearing down low income housing and replacing older homes with shoddily built and expensive new developments, the price of rentals and new homes in the metro area has skyrocketed. This has led to a mass exodus of working class people in the central downtown area, as well as an increase in homelessness in the city.
For the latter problem, many solutions have been tried, but all have run into the wall of bureaucracy. It seems the city of Denver is happier to have homeless people on the streets than in homes and shelters–even when it costs the city little or nothing. Last week an $8.6 million shelter expansion was shuttered before it could even open thanks to complaints from wealthy neighbors who challenged its legality–well after it had been built. This left homeless people to literally sleep on the sidewalks directly in front of a barricaded and vacant building built specifically to house them. The irony was not lost on many.
This week desperate homeless activists decided to fight back by erecting a tiny house village in Denver’s Sustainability Park, which is currently owned by the Denver Housing Authority and slated to be converted into housing, 90 percent of which will be high priced units. A complaint was filed and the homes were removed or destroyed by either a contractor or Denver Police, reports vary on who actually did the removal. Ten people were arrested for trespassing on the site as well, apparently affiliated with the Denver Homeless Out Loud organization. Some of the tiny homes were apparently confiscated as well, and will be returned to the group if they so choose.
That still begs the question of where they can be erected, however. The city has been cracking down on homelessness, practically treating it as a crime in recent years. A camping ban went into effect three years ago, and a homeless “right to rest” bill was defeated in the State House a few months ago, showing that the state cares little for the poor and needy at any level of government, preferring to keep them out of sight and out of mind.
Homeless activists have begun protesting all of these moves in a more traditional way as well, not just by erecting legally questionable tiny homes. Rallies have been held and are growing in number as the city tries to ignore the issue, or even exacerbate it in the case of the Denver Rescue Mission shutdown.
In any case, the problem of homelessness in the Denver Metro Area will continue to grow and it will need to be addressed one way or another. Shuttering shelters, criminalizing sleep, and dismantling housing for them probably won’t be the answer either.