Homeless encampment around Morey Middle School starts to empty

The homeless camp around Morey Middle School started to empty Monday as advocates and city workers urged residents to move out before the city takes more aggressive action to clear the area.

Advocates provided carts, boxes, tape and other supplies to residents of the camp, hoping to avoid a scene like the one last week at a large homeless encampment in Lincoln Park in front of the state capitol building, where law enforcement officers in riot gear moved in early in the morning and ordered residents to pack up.

“It was horrible,” Cuica Montoya, with Colorado Village Collaborative, said about the Thursday sweep. The sweep was traumatic for residents and deepened the distrust with which people experiencing homelessness view authorities, she said.

“Being left alone for so long, and then not even being given 24 hours to move, that’s rough,” she said.

Although last week’s sweep did not target the camp around Morey Middle School — which is just a few blocks away in the 800 block of East 14th Avenue — city officials have said a sweep at the school is being planned, and residents there know the site is high on the city’s list of priorities. Montoya said she expects to see a sweep in the next few days.

On Monday, a city trash truck circled the block, collecting discarded or abandoned items and piles of trash collected by residents.

Patrick Wilcox, who has been homeless for about three months, loaded a cart with boxes of his belongings as he prepared to leave. He was pushed into the streets after he lost his job as a dishwasher when the restaurant he worked at shut down because of the novel coronavirus, he said.

“I’m not going far,” he said as he packed. “Just three or four blocks.”

Many of those moving away from the middle school will simply find new, more scattered places to camp in the city, rather than going into shelters, in part because residents are afraid of COVID-19 spreading in indoor shelters.

The city has not yet opened its planned outdoor designated camping sites, which Mayor Michael Hancock said in early July would be an emergency measure to provide safe outdoor space to people experiencing homelessness.

The sites, which will be managed by Colorado Village Collaborative, might be open by the end of the month, Montoya said, although she added they’d previously hoped to have the sites up and running by mid-July and the process keeps getting delayed.

Wilcox said he would welcome a city-sanctioned outdoor campsite. He imagines a place where residents share chores on a rotation, and perhaps do a few hours of litter cleanup work around the city each week in exchange for a place to stay.

“Something like that would really help,” he said.

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