“Sophia Lawson will never forget the last conversation she had with Michael Alvarado. She’d known him for six months as an outreach worker for St. Francis Center, a homeless service agency in Denver, where Lawson spent her days walking, handing out socks and toothpaste as she built relationships and tried to help people get off the streets. One evening in October 2015 as she drove home from work, she passed a place where “community members,” as she respectfully calls them, often sleep together in tents. Spotting Alvarado, she pulled over to talk.
Alvarado asked if she’d get him some blankets. He said he was planning to find a secluded place to sleep because he had an appointment the next morning with Denver Human Services. “I have to get a good night’s sleep and the cops are going to be bothering us all night here,” she remembers him saying.
At the time, Denver police were actively enforcing the so-called urban camping ban, a 2012 ordinance that bars people from camping on public property. The City Council had passed the ban at the urging of the Downtown Denver Partnership, a business association that manages the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) and helped fund Lawson’s position. (A class-action lawsuit challenging the camping ban goes to trial in March. And later this year activists are hoping to get a “Right to Survive” initiative on the ballot to overturn the ban.)
Lawson gave blankets and hand-warmers to Alvarado and his friend, Jenifer Holcom, and they went off to find a spot to sleep. Shortly after midnight, the two were sleeping in an alley where they were run over by a vehicle, according to a police report. Alvarado, 42, was killed. Holcom suffered minor injuries but was devastated by her partner’s death. The hit-and-run driver was never apprehended.”
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Waters, Rob. Next City 18 February 2019.