Police investigating possible 'pop-up' bar at homeless encampment with shade, prostitutes and booze

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DENVER, CO – According to a report from CBS News, the Denver Police Department (DPD) is investigating what has been described as an “open-air pop-up bar” for the homeless.

The location of the alleged pop-up bar is on the north edge of downtown Denver. Police Patrol Division Chief Aaron Sanchez surveyed the scene at 23rd Street and Champa Street and said, “We’re hearing there was an open bar, sales of alcohol, things like that. We have officers looking into that.”

On Monday, September 11th, Sanchez, Denver police officers and other city officials stopped by the encampment after there had been “numerous complaints” that the encampment was blocking the sidewalk and impeding pedestrian access.

The encampment allegedly had liquor bottles on display as well as numerous couches and lounge chairs, recliners and astroturf flooring.

When CBS News Colorado visited the site, they said that dozens of empty liquor bottles were visible and there were large umbrellas up providing shade to the area. Sanchez said that there had been complaints about what appeared to be an outside bar-area of sorts.

“We are looking into all other allegations in regards to the bar setup and along those lines," Sanchez said.

Sanchez added that there were complaints about the couches and tents being rented out for prostitution; those allegations are also being investigated.

Meghan Shay, Director of Development and Marketing at Step Denver, said that she drives by the encampment every morning on her way to work and that is when she noticed what appeared to be a pop-up bar.

She said that an encampment serving liquor to the unhoused is counterproductive, noting that one report said “over 80 percent of the homeless have experienced lifetime alcohol and/or drug problems.”

She also said that a report on street mortality showed that in 2022 alone, drugs and alcohol were the cause of 60 percent of homeless deaths.

Back in early August, there was a sweep of a homeless encampment on 22nd and Stout Streets in downtown Denver due to health concerns raised by Mayor Mike Johnston’s administration.

There were dead and living rats, trash, and empty Narcan containers piling up against rocks. Those who were displaced had no other option but to set up camp nearby. At the time, a spokesperson for the Mayor released a statement in response to the sweep, saying, “Mayor Johnston’s priority is to help Denverites experiencing homelessness get indoors as quickly as possible through low-barrier shelter options like permanent housing units, supportive housing in hotels and tiny homes, and non-congregate shelter options.”

The statement added, “Denver today does not have enough available units to house individuals living on the street, which is why Mayor Johnston and the team in the Emergency Operations Center are working daily to identify and deliver new units to offer people by the end of the year.”

At the end of August, the city of Denver had to clear another homeless encampment after a downtown shooting. This encampment was on Logan Street between 17th and 18th Avenues. Housekeys Action Network Denver, a local advocacy group was not pleased with the city not giving reasonable notice of the sweep. 

“[The mayor] is blaming the sweep on a shooting in the area that took place yesterday," the group said. "But, if any apartment complex is shot at, all the residents are not evicted. The same should be true of an encampment.”
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