Latest Denver police sweep forces three dozen homeless from RiNo camp

It was the second major sweep of a Denver homeless encampment in 17 days

Denver Police Sgt. Brian Conover speaks with Dorian Phillips on Nov. 14, 2018, during a police sweep of a homeless encampment in Five Points. (Photo by Alex Burness for The Colorado Independent)
Denver Police Sgt. Brian Conover speaks with Dorian Phillips on Nov. 14, 2018, during a police sweep of a homeless encampment in Five Points. (Photo by Alex Burness for The Colorado Independent)

A young woman shrieked and howled Wednesday morning as she stomped across Arkins Court toward Brighton Boulevard, away from the homeless encampment where she’d been sleeping of late. She overturned a metal trash barrel as if to punctuate her anger, and people in the area turned their heads at the loud clang.

Earlier in the day, police had busted the encampment along the South Platte River near Arkins and 29th Street. At least three dozen people have been camping there, in the shadow of a massive new housing development in the gentrified Five Points enclave known as the River North Art District.

Those who happened to be there when the cops arrived were given the chance to bundle their things or send them to a storage facility a few blocks away, where the city will hold people’s belongings for up to 30 days.

Those who weren’t around when the sweep began — the young woman included — returned to find their things had been sent to storage without their consent.

“She’s freaking out because her stuff was taken,” explained Terese Howard, a volunteer organizer with Denver Homeless Out Loud. “Her stuff is gone because she went somewhere to run an errand, came back, and her stuff was gone. She’s trying to retrieve it but she can’t right now because the storage place isn’t even open and the stuff wasn’t labeled under her name. It was just taken.”

Such scenes are becoming more routine in Denver. People experiencing homelessness camp out, alone or in groups, and they are inevitably told to move along during what are known as “sweeps” of the homeless. Wednesday’s crack-down was relatively large-scale, and came just 17 days after Denver’s biggest sweep in recent memory, near the intersection of Park Avenue West and Lawrence Street in the Ballpark neighborhood. That one affected more than 100 people, some of whom relocated to the spot police cleared out on Wednesday.

The sweep in Ballpark was necessary, city officials said, because the tent city that had sprung up there brought with it public health concerns.

“You should have seen the feces and rats around here,” Denver Police Sgt. Brian Conover told Westword.

Conover was present for Wednesday’s sweep, too, which the city said was a response to safety concerns. “We had a life safety issue occurring along this stretch of Arkins, with people putting up tents adjacent to a busy roadway,” said Nancy Kuhn, a spokeswoman for Denver’s Department of Public Works, in a text message. “There were about 30 people sleeping/camping adjacent to a busy roadway. It’s not a safe place for people to be.”

Kuhn said the city also responded because it got a complaint about the encampment, which was on Denver Parks and Recreation land.

Asked why the city took the belongings of people who weren’t present when the sweep began, Kuhn said, “We store personal belongings so they can be retrieved by owners.”

For several hours, those affected by the sweep packed their things onto grocery carts and slowly moved out. Ranging from teens to folks well into middle age, they stuffed their carts with clothes, mattress pads, propane tanks, tarps, a few personal items — the bare necessities.

P.J. D’Amico, an advocate for the homeless who lives in Buffalo Creek, estimates he’s witnessed 40 sweeps in Denver over the past four years. He called Wednesday’s sweep “the most aggressive I’ve ever seen.”

“They’re descending onto these people without any warning or any time to move. In the past when they’ve done this, it’s this whack-a-mole thing where they say, ‘Hey, you can’t be here and so (the homeless) move across the street or somewhere else,” added D’Amico, who live-streamed the sweep on Wednesday. “This time, they didn’t give people a chance to claim their property.”

He, like others interviewed for this story, seemed shaken by what happened to the young woman who stormed off after learning her belongings had been taken.

Some disagreed with D’Amico’s assessment of the sweep as unusually aggressive. Dorian Phillips, 42, who was staying at the Ballpark encampment until that was shut down, called Wednesday’s sweep “much more respectful” than others. Still, he said he was bothered that some in the encampment found their belongings were taken to storage without their consent.

“They’re taking people’s s—,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

“I don’t know what the (heck) I’m supposed to do,” said Ikemish Anthony, 35, as she packed up her things. She and Phillips have been married 16 years and suffer on-and-off homelessness, despite the fact that Anthony works full-time at a restaurant on Colfax Avenue.

“Some of us work. I do work. I’ve always been working. But $15 an hour isn’t enough,” she said.

Asked what she’d do after moving off of Arkins, she responded, “I guess I’ll worry about where I sleep tonight, tonight.”

D’Amico and Denver Homeless Out Loud are planning a “sleep-in” event for the eve of Thanksgiving. They hope to get at least 200 people, homeless and housed alike, to sleep outside to raise awareness of Denver’s criminalization of homelessness; it is illegal to sleep outside in this city, as it is in many other Front Range cities. D’Amico said mayoral and city council candidates will join them for the event, the location of which they aren’t prepared to disclose publicly, for fear of tipping off police. Activists are also hopeful they’ll win voter support to overturn the camping ban during Denver’s May election. Similar efforts have failed repeatedly at the state legislature.

Many choose to sleep outside even though homeless shelters are available. They say that’s because the shelters are packed, have dehumanizing rules, and are unsafe and unsanitary.

“The shelters suck and they’re always full. So in the meantime, we got tents,” Phillips said, as he puffed a cigarette and his wife packed up.

He paused, and added, “It’s cold out here.”


  1. I have had everything I’ve wanted, I have had nothing.
    Ugly truth is, people, especially “christian” people, hate the poor.

    They largely despise those without (how often do you see a basic church, one not adorned with art, and gold wares, and fancy woods, and other such luxuries?).

    People love you…as long as you have money, and stuff…..especially nice stuff.

    Ever seen a “portrait” of Jesus looking haggard, dirty, truly poor?

    Darwin noted in his studies that all species compete for scarce resources.
    Humans fear being without, thus project their fears on those without.

    People will live to extreme excesses, before bothering to worry about those without even basic necessities.
    Yet they continue to gripe about their petty inconveniences.

    Amazon, the first TRILLION dollar company, is being given BILLIONS in TAXPAYER monies.
    Cities across the U.S. are competing against one another over whom can throw the most money at Jeff Bezos and his corporation.
    Ditto for the other ultra-wealthy elite and their corps….to the tune of $110 BILLION annually.

    Yet those with nothing are harassed, tossed aside, treated like animals….or worse

    People are judged most solely on the amount of capital they move in their lifetimes, especially how much they move towards the already ultra-wealthy.

    Jeff Bezos identifies as “chrisitan”.
    Go figure……………..

    Of all species, human are the most insecure. Lost souls desperately clinging to mere stuff to instill a sense of validation in their insecurities.
    Having what others don’t have is one of the only ways people can gain any sense of pride, of identity, of self-worth.

    Just remember, regardless your personal bias or prejudices or assumptions (we all have ’em), you never REALLY know what circumstances may have led to someone being left homeless.

    Capital, as a resource, is limited (like other resources). This is the principle of scarcity.
    The more a few accumulate & hoard, the less there is for everyone else.

    This is the true “trickle-down” effect of economics.
    The WTID wealth inequality index is at its highest lever EVER in U.S. history.
    The few are hoarding more than ever.

    Over 10 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, lost everything in their fights for freedom and independence, for everyone else in this country.
    They died broke, most homeless.

    Yet only the wealthy signers are remembered.

    “As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one
    sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in
    the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?”
    -Alexis de Tocqueville-

    “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.”
    -Jean-Jacques Rousseau- “The Social Contract”

    For the ultra-wealthy, that slavery is often a slavery to wealth.

    1 Timothy 6:10 KJV – “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”

  2. The real shame is that the worst is yet to come. While Republicans gut the safety net, the economy is about to put a lot more folks in positions of need.

  3. OK you all know why these people do not stay in shelters right? Because they want to get fucked up. Drugs and alcohol. ask them I have heard from many of their mouths. I worked security and I asked them why they don’t just go to a shelter. Have you ever had these people set up camp behind your house? I have. It really sucks. You want a solution for the homeless you have to stop friggin catering to them. Colorado is getting extra money for taking in the homeless and what are they doing? I don’t know but here are some ideas.
    1. Set up a mental health clinic to diagnose homeless to find out who really needs help and who just wants to mess around and be drunk all the time.
    2. Set up a skill evaluation center to determine what skills those who have the ability to work are good at.
    3. Set up low income housing. Basic living accommodations at affordable rates for those who work full time and make less then a certain amount.
    we probably need some more work on this but here is a start. If you want to pay me I will come with a plan to cover all the bases. Just call district 3 police and ask for the guys number who calls them every friggin week about the insane number of homeless people that try and crash behind my house leaving piles of garbage everywhere. Put me in charge of this and I will find a solution. The only reason there has not been a solution is because no one is really trying to solve it. I dont think it would take me more then 6 months, if I had an assistant who knew the laws, to come up with a plan that would be cost effective and acceptable to the majority.
    4. This is the one you people need to stop bitching about. Once previous steps are in place, anyone sleeping on the street should be arrested and have their stuff disposed of. Stop enabling these people to sleep in their own piss and eat rotting food. Set up a way for these people to make a living based on their capabilities and just get rid of the people who don’t want to do anything. Or build them a friggin thunderdome so they get wasted as much as they want and kill each other off.

  4. Yeah, I have very little sympathy at this point. For the past two weeks, there’s been an encampment across the street from where I live. They scream at each other, incessantly, about stupid shit like who smoked the last cigarette. They drink whatever cheap booze they can get their hands on until they pass out; they steal bicycles and furniture and anything else they have the opportunity to. You should’ve seen this pile of other people’s property this guy was moving around last night, his drug addled brain just never being satisfied with the position of the items.
    You can see the tents lighting up with flame flicker all night, like fire flies, as people take hits.

    I have nothing against people who have hit hard times and are working to climb back out. If you’re willing to bust your ass and work for food, shelter, and money, than good for you. But when you lose absolute respect for anyone around you, and you build up piles of garbage, feces, rotten food, needles, and live in the dirt, then people lose respect for you.
    This is not some inhumane crusade against an oppressed people; this is a justified reaction to unsanitary, illegal, and dangerous coagulations of degenerate humans who mainly put themselves in the positions they’re in.

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