Coloradans love camping. You’ll find best-of and tip lists, as well as guides to everything from backpacking to “car camping” on newsstands all year long. This summer, another kind of camping has been making headlines, too: the existence of homeless camps in Denver—and the clearing of those camps.
There has been ongoing coverage of the aftermath of the city’s March sweeps of the Ballpark neighborhood. And last month, Denver police cleared out homeless encampments at Arkins Court and Confluence Park.
Some service providers and city officials worry that, by allowing homeless camps to exist, the city enables people and prevents them from seeking services. Other advocates for those experiencing homelessness have voiced concern recently that breaking up camps and forcing people to move along actually makes it harder to reach out to people in need.
It’s a complex conversation. Both sides want to help. At the center of it all, meanwhile, are the people living in these camps. Some are sleeping outside because they have no other options, and some are sleeping outside because they feel it’s the best option for them.
In this issue, we’ve printed essays by two Denver VOICE vendors about their experiences with camping as a housing alternative. These two vendors had very different camping experiences. Ann felt she had no other options when she and her boyfriend set up their tent in Golden, while Armand felt more comfortable camping than staying in an emergency men’s shelter. Though Ann’s experience was a mostly peaceful one, it was also clouded by the worry of being found out. Armand, on the other hand, has stayed in some very dangerous places, but still prefers sleeping outside. The stories have similarities, too. Both describe feeling a sense of peace at times, despite the worries and dangers associated with sleeping outside.
Part of the VOICE’s mission is to publish the stories of people whose lives are affected by poverty and homelessness. While this paper doesn’t have the answer to the question of what a city should do about homeless camps, we can share the human stories behind the issue. ■