Home / World News / Crimes against homeless people up 42 percent in Denver and suburban cops say that’s pushing transients into their towns – The Denver Post

Crimes against homeless people up 42 percent in Denver and suburban cops say that’s pushing transients into their towns – The Denver Post

Denver police often order Connie Smith to pack her stuff and move along.

She has been without a home for five years, and while she sometimes couch-surfs, she doesn’t flinch from spending cold nights huddled out of sight on Denver’s streets or on the banks of the South Platte River.

But she’s not always safe.

“After dark it is not good,” she said one recent evening on a perch overlooking a path running alongside the dark river.

Sometimes the threat surrounding life on the street drives her to take shelter inside a Porta-Potty.

“It is nasty,” said Smith, 45. “But I feel safe.”

The number of reported crimes against homeless people in Denver climbed nearly 42 percent over a four-year period to 1,008 in 2017 even as suburban law enforcement agencies say more transients are being pushed to outlying communities by the threat of violence.

Denver police say their own uniformed presence in areas where homeless people congregate results in more victims making reports.

But advocates blame the increase in crime on Denver’s urban camping ban, which bars sleeping in a tent or under a blanket in public spaces. As camps are broken up, the advocates say, homeless people disperse from the safety of groups into more remote areas where they won’t be rousted by cops, but where they also are at more risk for crimes ranging from petty theft to assault.

Life on the streets is always dangerous and difficult, said Chris Conner, interim director of Denver’s Road Home.

“Street homelessness does not provide a safe refuge from crime, the elements and related public-health concerns,” he said. “We will continue to encourage those in need to come indoors so we can provide them with support services, connect them to housing resources when possible and support their overall well-being.”

Eighty-six percent of the city’s homeless either use the shelter system or stay in transitional housing and safe havens, said Denver Human Services spokeswoman Julie Smith.

But many homeless avoid the shelters, saying they are dirty, unsafe and breeding grounds for illness and bed bugs.

Police enforcement of Denver’s camping ban has resulted in constant movement and greater danger for those who live on the streets, said Terese Howard, an advocate and organizer of Denver Homeless Out Loud.

“When you are pushed to areas where you are not with your community, you are more in danger of having things happen to you,” she said. “The city is playing a game of Whac-A-Mole. It is arbitrary enforcement. You are not going to sweep homeless people away. They are living from one block to another, to different cities and back to the river.”

Law enforcement representatives in Lakewood, Wheat Ridge, Littleton, Englewood and other nearby areas say they have seen an increase in the number of homeless people living in their jurisdictions.

“This is a statewide concern,” Wheat Ridge Police Chief Dan Brennan said. “A lot of us are dealing with a higher number of transients.”

Littleton Police Cmdr. Trent Cooper said camps with multiple inhabitants have popped up on abandoned properties in the city. He recently talked to about a dozen homeless people at one campsite. All said they had come from Denver.

“For the first time in my memory, we have had a couple of homeless camps where multiple people are living,” he said.

He said he’s aware that homeless populations increase over time, but “cities are pushing them out.”

Denver’s population has grown rapidly over the past decade, and the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the city added 13,028 people in the year that ended July 1. How many newcomers are homeless is unknown.

But there is wide agreement that the lack of affordable housing in the city is exacerbating homelessness.

The Metro Denver Homeless Initiative — which counts homeless people in the seven counties that make up the Denver metro area on one night each year, a count known as the point-in-time survey — found that the number of homeless in Denver dropped to 3,336 in 2017 from 3,631 the year before. However, the survey found the number of people considered chronically homeless increased to 712 from 578.

The chronically homeless, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development,  are those living in a place not meant for human habitation, a safe haven or an emergency shelter continuously for at least a year or on at least four separate occasions in the past three years where the combined length of time homeless is at least a year. Also, the chronically homeless each have a disability.

The point-in-time survey found that during the same period, Boulder County, where the city of Boulder has a tough camping ban and an aggressive program to get people into transitional housing, experienced a drop in the homeless population to 600 in 2017 from 726 in 2016. Numbers also fell in Adams County, to 157 from 200, and Jefferson County, to 395 from 439.

During the same period, the number of homeless rose in Arapahoe County, to 562 from 456, with the number of chronically homeless jumping to 160 from 66. In Douglas County, the homeless number jumped to 45 from two, and in Broomfield County, the number rose to 22 from 13.

Twenty-five of Colorado’s 76 largest cities have citywide camping bans and 17 others ban camping in certain places, primarily parks, according to a 2016 study the Sturm College of Law Homeless Advocacy Policy Project at the University of Denver.

The point-in-time survey doesn’t account for all of the metro area’s homeless, and many believe the number is much higher than the 5,116 homeless individuals counted in the seven-county metro area on Jan. 30.

While the number of homeless people in Wheat Ridge has grown, Brennan is not sure that a tough camping ban is forcing a migration from Denver.

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