Update, 08/31/21: Early this morning, the City of Denver swept a homeless encampment in front of the Four Winds American Indian Council where a group of unhoused Native Americans were residing for the last month. The coordinated sweep closed down part of Bannock Street, including the sidewalk and bus lane. During the sweep, two people— a man and woman— were arrested for "disobedience to a lawful order and interference," according to the Denver Police Department.
You can read the original story below:
DENVER — While Tomasa Dogtrail wasn’t born in Denver, the 50-year-old Native American is from this land. Originally from a reservation in South Dakota, Dogtrail has lived in Denver for the last three decades, but has struggled to secure permanent, long-term housing.
“We’re tired of being pushed around, us Native Americans,” Dogtrail told Rocky Mountain PBS.
Dogtrail is among the two dozen unhoused people living at the encampment on 5th Avenue and Bannock Street in front of the Four Winds American Indian Council, which is set to be swept by the City of Denver early tomorrow morning, August 31.
“Our community represents 5.85 percent of homeless folks in Denver County. So that's 7.14 times the size of our general population. So we're definitely the ones in the county that are facing homelessness at the greatest rate and our community is the most impacted in the City of Denver,” said Mateo Parsons, the board chair at Four Winds American Indian Council—a volunteer-run organization for Indigenous Peoples.
According to Parsons, there have been at least two encampments outside the Four Winds American Indian Council on-and-off since March 2021. The current camp, which started at the beginning of July, was swept at the end of July after neighbors complained to Mayor Hancock’s office.
During the time of the sweep, Four Winds offered storage space for some of the Native Americans experiencing homelessness to store their belongings until the city’s enforcement action was completed. Many of the same displaced folks, like Dogtrail, returned to 5th and Bannock after the sweep. Some new faces appeared too.
“I guess word had spread that there was a Native camp, and Four Winds was friendly to a Native camp being near our building, and so it just kind of grew in size over those next couple of weeks,” Parsons explained. “Right now, we would say that it's probably between 90 and 95 percent Native American.”
Parsons, who is Warm Springs Apache and Yaqui, recently hosted a resource fair at Four Winds, offering food, COVID-19 vaccines, nursing visits, behavioral health support, help reordering Colorado IDs and scheduling DMV appointments and information about housing.
“According to the numbers that I got from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, I think the entire camp actually took advantage of those resources that were available,” Parsons said.
However, if the impending sweep happens and further displaces the unhoused people living at 5th and Bannock, the road to permanent housing is even more challenging.
“We're asking the city to stop the sweep and to not allow it to continue tomorrow morning so that we can make sure that the folks in the camp who have taken advantage of resources are able to go through the process and participate in the follow ups that are needed,” Parsons said.
More importantly, the unofficial community coalition of people currently living at 5th and Bannock are asking the city to develop a safe outdoor space for Native people where they can be connected to resources and support while transitioning into permanent, long-term housing.
Tristan Richards, who was raised as a Lakota, told Rocky Mountain PBS that he has applied for housing several times but never heard back.
“A lot of us have already applied for housing... I have five different applications for housing,” he said. “I was supposed to be in an apartment last summer when we were camped out around the school over there. I went into a COVID shelter hotel. From that hotel, we were supposed to all get apartments. It fell through.”
He added: “I feel like I'm just being pushed to the back, you know? I mean, a lot of us feel that way.”
During a meeting on Monday afternoon, Parsons, Dogtrail and other members of the unofficial community coalition met with Mayor Hancock and his office, and asked him to stop tomorrow’s sweep from taking place.
“They’re still planning on moving ahead tomorrow morning,” Parsons said. “They did express support for a Native preference safe outdoor space. Four Winds and other folks in the community are going to continue working with his administrations and members of city council to identify possible sites and go through the process of getting that done.
While a safe space for Native Peoples is exactly what Dogtrail and Richards need to find housing, they don’t plan on leaving their spot at 5th and Bannock before tomorrow’s sweep.
“We're just going to combat it like we did last time,” Richards said. “We're just going to stay here and demand that we have a safe zone for us to be until we all get housing.”
Victoria Carodine is a digital content producer for Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at email@example.com.