“Hypothermia, pneumonia, losing limbs”: Encampment sweeps will continue in sub-freezing temperatures

Photo Courtesy of @housekeysactionnetworkdenver on Instagram.

For months now, advocates for the unhoused have been trying to get Denver City Council to pass a measure that would limit the city’s ability to clear encampments in sub-freezing weather.

At the tail end of January, Denver City Council supported these efforts, by passing Council Bill 1960. Things took a turn a week later, when Denver Mayor Mike Johnston vetoed the bill. That decision led City Council to vote again yesterday. That vote tallied at seven-to-six, to override Mayor Mike Johnston’s veto. That’s the same tally as when they first approved the ban two weeks ago. But, in order to override a mayoral veto, council needs a supermajority of nine votes.

So, after months and months of advocacy back-and-forth, the decision is final: encampment sweeps will still be allowed in temperatures 32 degrees and under.

V Reeves works with Housekeys Action Network Denver – that’s a group advocating for the unhoused, and the “freezing sweeps” bill. They joined KGNU’s Jackie Sedley to talk about the vote.

“I hope that people will also be reaching out to the mayor and sharing their disappointment, but reaching out to the city council members. Yesterday was a heartbreaking day, harrowing to see what the outcome was, and it was the same for a ceasefire proclamation, for Palestine, and so, there’s a lot of commonality there – when we aren’t able to stand for the most basic of human measures, or we aren’t able to have proclamations and have things that protect people’s most basic rights to survive, to live, in absolutely harrowing conditions,” said Reeves. “And so I hope people see those parallels, and I hope they recognize that this is happening here and now, and also as the migrant crisis continues – or I should say the forced migration that we’re seeing the effects of – we’re going to end up having, small babies and infants in tents, as well. So imagine the effects on small infants in the freezing cold when they’re being forced to move. So, absolutely, we’re going to need the community to stand up and to, be able to provide the support that the city just failed to provide.”

Listen here:

  • cover play_arrow

    HAND - Johnston veto unhoused Jackie Sedley

 

Transcript:

Jackie Sedley: 8:11 on listener-supported KGNU. You’re listening to the Morning Magazine. I’m Jackie Sedley. For months now, advocates for the unhoused have been trying to get Denver City Council to pass a measure that would limit the city’s ability to clear encampments in sub freezing weather. At the tail end of January, Denver City Council supported these efforts by passing Council Bill 1960.

But, things took a turn a week later, when Denver Mayor Mike Johnston vetoed the bill. That decision led City Council to vote again yesterday. That vote tallied at 7 6 to override Mayor Mike Johnston’s veto. That’s the same tally as when they first approved the ban two weeks ago, but in order to override a mayoral veto, council needs a supermajority of 9 votes. So, all of that to say, after months and months of advocacy and back and forth, the decision is final. Encampment sweeps will still be allowed in temperatures 32 degrees and under in Denver.

Vee Reeves works with House Keys Action Network Denver. That’s a group advocating for the unhoused and the freezing sweeps bill. They joined us this morning to talk about last night’s vote. Hi, Vee.

Vee Reeves: Hi, thank you so much for having me.

Sedley: So, tell us about the energy in the city council room last night leading up to the vote. Was it clear that council would side with Mayor Johnston’s veto?

Reeves: I think that it was not totally clear. I think there was still some hope. I think that the people have been pushing and fighting for this, not just for, this year, but for many years, in fact, um, to be able to expand upon the rights of the unhoused community. And so I think that, we definitely were holding on to hope. In the end, it seems as though the mayor’s veto held its, um, held its place and we were disappointed by the result for sure.

Sedley: And quickly for listeners who didn’t hear the news last week, why did Johnston veto the bill?

Reeves: Well, he had a couple of reasons that he gave, um, Really during his campaign trail, he had actually said that he would agree with not sweeping during freezing temperatures. So he had campaigned on that promise, and that had been made clear during one of the mayoral panels, that he had that was, a historic one in front of the unhoused community. In front of the city and county building. But then he, you know, was suggesting that actually, uh, this would impede people’s desire to go inside and thus impede his progress with housing a thousand or continuing to bring people indoors.

And that’s just not the case. His stats had shown that, between 90 and 95%, I think, of people accepted housing when presented to them. Our stats have shown, similar numbers. We know that people want housing. They want opportunities to go indoors and, making it so that they’re not forced to do so. And actually have a choice to do so would have just made the whole experience much more humane. So, really, I think that his, reasoning was false. I think that suggesting that, this would be, um, you know, overturning the camping ban in entirety and, would be, yeah, impeding his, his processes and making things harder for his workers was just not, Not the situation.

It was just a small bit of humanity towards people in really trying situations just to show that they could be a little safer and not have to risk losing their limbs or their lives in freezing cold weather.

Sedley: So your group, HAND, House Keys Action Network Denver, alongside other advocates, has been holding rallies and lobbying both council members and Mayor Johnston for months to ban these sub freezing sweeps. What kind of reactions did you hear from people in the room after the decision was made final yesterday?

Reeves: It was heartbreaking. There were tears. It was a lot of People holding on to each other, especially the people who have both lived this and know how horrible it is to have to pick up and move all of your belongings, soaking wet, frozen, and have to, you know, walk, uh, five, six more blocks to find somewhere to stop, maybe seven or eight, because so many places now are, are blocked off, And so it was heartbreaking for people who had lived it.

It was heartbreaking for the advocates who have gone out into the snow and have seen the aftermath of it, have had to bring supplies to people who had absolutely everything taken, who were dealing with hypothermia, and pneumonia and losing limbs, blackening of their nose and ears and fingertips. And so, just to know that we’re going to have to continue to show up to these horrendous scenes and to see people, struggling in such awful, inhumane ways, because of something that could have been resolved, it was very heartbreaking. It is.

Sedley: And I know that you alluded to this before, that the mayor reiterated this time around a campaign promise that sweeps would not be ordered when temperatures are at or below freezing, unless there’s a greater health or safety risk at play. I know that your group, HAND, has challenged Johnston over the past few months, saying he’s broken these promises. What do you expect moving forward, with temperatures still expected to hit sub 32 over at least the next couple months?

Reeves: Yeah, I think, um, I think what they define as a greater health risk is something that they used and bastardized. I think that they’ve suggested things like, and they actually suggested this in the hearings as well, things like, having rats in the area was more of a risk to people’s lives than, um, severe cold. which is just not the case. And we’re not pushing this bill because we’ve seen, huge cases of, of people losing limbs to rat bites.

So we’re pushing this because we’ve seen the evidence and we’re going to continue to see this. We had so many medical experts come in and talk about how, they’ve seen, they’ve had patients come in during the freeze and cold after losing everything in a sweep, and they know the dangers of having to move in that kind of weather.

And so the data was there. It was put in front of city council. It was put in front of the mayor. And for them to outright deny it, just for the sake of being able to have further enforcement and further, violence to people just trying to survive, um, is awful. So, you know, we’re going to do what we continue to do. We’re going to show up. We’re going to make sure that people’s voices are heard. You know, we are proud of all the effort that went into this. We are proud of the people who, um, chose to speak out, and share the horrors of what they’ve been through. And unfortunately, that’s more of what we’re going to hear and, and, just hope for a better outcome in the future.

Sedley: And with just about 30 seconds left, V, if listeners want to help support and provide aid to the unhoused on the streets during these freezing temperatures, is there any way that they can reach out to your organization to help?

Reeves: Absolutely. They can reach out. Our number is 701-484-2634. They can email us at info at housekeysactionnetwork.com.

We work very closely with a lot of mutual aid groups, especially Mutual Aid Monday that also receives, gear and things like that every Monday from 4 to 7 in front of the city and county building.

I hope that people will also be reaching out to the mayor and sharing their disappointment, but reaching out to the city council members. Yesterday was a heartbreaking day, harrowing to see what the outcome was, and it was the same for a ceasefire proclamation, for Palestine, and so, there’s a lot of commonality there – when we aren’t able to stand for the most basic of human measures, or we aren’t able to have proclamations and have things that protect people’s most basic rights to survive, to live, in absolutely harrowing conditions.

And so I hope people see those parallels, and I hope they recognize that this is happening here and now, and also as the migrant crisis continues – or I should say the forced migration that we’re seeing the effects of – we’re going to end up having, small babies and infants in tents, as well. So imagine the effects on small infants in the freezing cold when they’re being forced to move. So, absolutely, we’re going to need the community to stand up, and to be able to provide the support that the city just failed to provide.

Sedley: V Reeves with House Keys Action Network Denver. V, thank you for taking the time this morning. We appreciate it.

Reeves: Yeah, thank you.

Picture of Jackie Sedley

Jackie Sedley

Search

Now Playing

Recent Stories

Upcoming Events

KGNU PARTNERS

0%

This May 1st and 2nd, we’re encouraging you to give and to publicly express what KGNU personally means to you.

We join other public and local stations across the country for this second annual event. It’s your forum to support and champion how KGNU connects with your values.

Donate

Learn More