Activists of Occupy Denver outside Rock Bottom Brewery on Denver’s 16th St Mall. Management claim to be against Denver’s Camping Ban, but have failed to publicly make a stance against Urban Camping Laws.
Denver, Colorado is a booming community located on the east side of the Rocky Mountain foothills. Called the Mile High City, in 2018 there are few places you can travel in the city for one mile and not see the impacts of homelessness in the city. Denver has a booming economy supported by a growing mass transit system and an international airport, the economy has been boosted by legalized cannabis reforms. With all this in mind, Denver has, like many parts of the United States, experienced unsustainable spikes in homelessness issues. Growing at a pace to keep up with the needs of the community has been a challenge that elected officials have been slow to find the backbone to show serious intent to create lasting solutions. Denver businesses are a major part of this sluggishness.
In a traditionally corporate-centric move, Downtown Denver businesses through a local lobbyist group the Downtown Denver Partnership and it’s leader Tammy Door; moved to solidify their profits by choosing to ignore the needs of the laborers that support them. In 2012, Denver City Council passed the ‘Urban Camping Ban’ an ordinance that made it illegal to ‘camp’ or be homeless in the City and County of Denver. At the time, it was suggested that Denver was failing in it’s 2005 commitments to eliminate homelessness. During planning meetings, the Denver Westord reported in 2012 that commentators were very clear that Denver was making laws without proving effective solutions. “Even if the city doubled its current shelter capacity, it would still not reach the necessary number, says Bennie Milliner, new executive director of Denver’s Road Home.” (Denver Westword, 2012)
Six years after the creation of Urban Camping Ban, activists continue to come out against this law and to promote intentional solutions. Since the creation of the Urban Camping Ban, efforts by Denver Homeless Outloud, other activist groups and state representatives like Joe Salazar have pushed for the Homeless Bill of Rights – a bill designed to protect human dignity regardless of access to housing. While this Bill has not passed committee for 3 years, the fact that these topics continue to be pressed by government representatives is a key sign that greater solutions continue to be sought after.
“What has been proven, that making laws against human survival, are inhumane and ineffective. “City officials claim that they do not criminalize homelessness, but these statistics validate that they do. In 2017 alone, 4,647 people violating the camping ban were contacted by police. Make no mistake: even if a person is not arrested, ticketed or fined under this law, the very act of being contacted by law enforcement, asked to move along, or searched because of their unsheltered status amounts to a criminalization of that status. These individuals have all been told that they are committing a crime, by surviving. Sleeping with covers is essential to keeping proper body protection; criminalizing the ability to cover yourself is a threat to one’s life. Forcing people to move along results in the constant disruption of sleep and requires people to relocate to oftentimes hidden and unsafe locations. These police contacts are not only unnecessary, they compound the condition of homelessness, be it by the negative health effects, losing one’s personal documents or identification in the ensuing disruption, or resulting in a criminal record for merely surviving. 2016 saw a 500% increase in enforcement of the survival ban [urban camping ban], and 2017 numbers remain just as high. This is kind of response to a human health epidemic must be repealed for sanity’s sake of survival.” (Denver Westword, 2017)
Denver, CO Community members sheltering from the snow on April 21, 2018 one day after the city hosted a public celebration of cannabis downtown. (Photo by David Anderson)
Today, May 7, 2018 Denver Homeless Outloud, will be hosting an event to release a report, Too High a Price: What Criminalizing Homelessness Costs Colorado, the second report from The University of Denver Sturm College of Law on homelessness and the laws against survival. In the online abstract there are staggering facts like this,
“Many cities aggressively target homeless residents for panhandling and for trespassing. Fewer than half of the cities surveyed have restrictions on begging or panhandling, yet Denver arrested nearly 300 homeless individuals in 2014 for panhandling. Between 2013 and 2014, Denver issued over 2,000 trespass citations to homeless individuals. This represents more than half of all trespass citations in the city even though homeless residents are only 0.05% of the population.”
Laws against homelessness don’t work, they enhance the issue by pushing decriminalization instead of interactive support systems. These laws, focused on persecuting people, are often presented and passed through pressure of lobby groups and campaign partnerships of local legislatures. This is a common practice in the United States. Lobby groups commonly write and push laws they design. In a post I wrote back in 2015 on Microbead Legislation, I showed how microplastic manufacturers helped to write those laws.
As a plan of action, it’s important that we take action directly to prevent laws against homelessness to be written in our community. Providing effective integrated solutions within our communities is not only more humane, it eliminates the need for such laws. Business lobby groups indicate that the sight of homelessness is a blight, that it negatively impacts their abilities to be profitable. They often do and say this while missing on the fact that within their own staff, most Millions of Americans are one paycheck away from homelessness.
So what do we do? Between my job, feeding my family and paying my taxes – it’s hard enough! Here are 3 places to start.
1) Stay involved in the activities of your local government. Speaking out against laws that negatively impact homelessness can be a push to –
2) Support and volunteer with organizations that provide solutions. Rising rents, underemployment and medical conditions are top reasons why homelessness exists. Giving time and energy to help others has many rewards, most importantly you make a difference in people’s lives.
3) Open up space in your home. Using a toilet in peace, taking a shower and having a good nights sleep are things most readers will take for granted. Providing these to another human being is a humbling, life changing experience. Through personal relationships and volunteering at your church or community centers it’s easy to meet and get to know a person seeking to keep their head above water. Once the fear is gone, the freedom of helping others directly will change your life.
Homelessness isn’t always a choice, the focus of capitalistic values on property can often make it difficult to achieve such standards. However, by working together we can achieve a standard where people don’t have to struggle for survival and fear arrest for being forced to sleep on the street.