Homeless advocate group 'Housing First, No More Deaths!' is demanding city leaders put a stop to the 'sudden' homeless camp clean-up effort along the Colorado River.
Wednesday night, group members called the move by city police a surprise and blatant attack on the less fortunate. They pleaded for a moratorium on the notices that give the homeless a maximum of five days to pack up and leave.
"For someone who has to carry everything on his backpack, maybe has medical problems, $1.75 in his pocket, it's a rough life," Eric Niederkruger said.
Police say they have been working on this plan for 18 months. Because of an increase in violence over the past two years, they hope to clean up about 40 camps near the Pepsi Plant on both city and private property.
"There is a lot of trash, a lot of human waste down there," Kate Porras, public information officer with GJPD, said. "We've had two homicides, various assaults down there, an arson case."
When police start posting the notices of clean-up in the coming weeks, they will be citing violations of city right of way ordinances, riverfront regulations, no trespassing laws, and camping without a permit infractions.
Over the past two years, police say they have helped clean up multiple sites. But, homeless advocates say this round is catching them off guard and violating their trust.
"These people allowed you into their camps where police used GPS units to pinpoint their locations," Pastor Mike Burr said as he addressed the council. "Now, that same GPS data is being used to destroy these camps."
Niederkruger echoed the sentiment. "[Police] have really had a lot of information given to them in good faith and I don't believe they acted in good faith when they said they were telling people they needed to leave."
Both men say these 'evictions' could be a death sentence for some. "I'm convinced there is not adequate space for homeless people in the Grand Valley," Niederkruger said. "I know that through the local shelter overflowing."
Staff at the Homeward Bound homeless shelter on North Avenue are in the midst of acquiring new land and a much larger facility. We're told representatives hope to close on an agreement to buy the old Grand Valley Power building by September. But, they say there is still enough space at their current facility to house the homeless that would be displaced by these clean-up efforts.
"It is something the police department came to the coalition meeting and spoke to the coalition about," Mollie Woodard, Chair of the Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless and employee at Homeward Bound, said. "Homeward Bound has certainly not been turning anybody away and would continue to house folks because that's what we do well."
Representing the coalition, Woodard says there are more than enough resources available to help the people living in these deplorable conditions.
"People stay on average at Homeward Bound for 62 days before they're getting the service they need to get back on their feet," she described. "I have to say, Chief John Camper and the Homeless Outreach Team with the police department have been very easy to work with and very collaborative."
Having been assured there are enough services to help these displaced people, police are continuing to move forward with the plan. "It's not right to let these people continue living in these conditions down there," Porras said.
But, local advocates are concerned it'll create an even bigger problem. "Where are the people going to go," Niederkruger asked the council.
Burr painted a different picture. "I'm warning you they'll go somewhere else whether it's into neighborhoods, parks, or somewhere more visible," he said. "I suggest you think twice about this... and prevent the deaths that will take place.
Police are standing their ground. "[Our HOT Team] has been working with these people for a year and a half now. Those who choose to stay down there will have to leave," Porras said. "That's the law and our job as a law enforcement agency is to enforce the law."
The city's HOT Team has not posted any notices at the camps in question yet. Any postings so far have come from Code Enforcement.
The city council did not respond to any public comments on the issue at Wednesday night's meeting.