Denver Bishop upset over growing homeless camp outside church

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DENVER – A Denver church leader says he is fed up with the number of homeless people camped out in front of his church.

Bishop Jerry Demmer has been leading Absolute Word Church at the corner of 24th and California for the past six years. He says there have always been homeless campers in the park across the street.

“I’ve been involved with feeding the homeless and clothing the homeless,” he said. “That’s been one of our ministries, so I have an appreciation for the homeless. What I don’t have an appreciation for is when you take over public property.”

Demmer says a group recently set up an encampment on the grass outside the church between the sidewalk and the street.

“When I came up this morning they were all the way down the street and sidewalk was taken over with bikes and everything on it,” he said. “I could not park here this morning.”

He says the number of campers has increased since Friday, when a Denver judge struck down the city’s urban camping ban. Police can no longer harass or arrest a person for living on the street in a public outdoor space.

Now the Bishop says he worries what will happen next.

“People from all over are going to say it’s okay to come to Colorado because if you’re homeless you can take over public property,” he said.

According to Demmer, the encampment is already negatively affecting his congregation.

“I have a great church. But a lot of people would never come to my church if they rode by and seen the situation on the side and sometimes in the front. They would never come to the church because it’s like, well I can’t even get into your church,” he said.

He says needles used for heroin are often found on the sidewalk where churchgoers, including children,  need to walk.

“One of the hardest things in this homeless epidemic is that people decide I can urinate wherever and I can defecate wherever,” he said. “A man on the front of the church just dropped his pants and defecated.”

Demmer says he has talked to the campers but they have been unable to come to a resolution.

“They’re very, it wasn’t me. It’s very much, I clean up after myself. I get a lot of those conversations. And then I get a lot of conversations basically eff off,” he said.

FOX31 asked the campers about the issues the Bishop brought up.

“There’s construction sites all over the place but they lock up the bathrooms,” James Todd, who has been living on the streets for the past year, told FOX31. “So if you had to go to the bathroom…what are you going to do in that moment?”

In regards to the issue of the campers taking over parts of the street outside the church designated for parking, Todd suggested the congregation and the Bishop simply park elsewhere.

“Is it because he’s inconvenienced of how much farther he has to walk to get to his front door because he enjoyed parking right here?” Todd said.