What do you do when it becomes illegal to be homeless or as many prefer – underhoused? What if they put people in jail for trying to survive harsh elements? How does criminalizing homelessness impact the rates of rape and sexual assault in the homeless community? These are some of the questions members of Occupy Denver have been asking residents and tourists along Downtown Denver’s 16th St Mall for over 6 years since Denver’s Unauthorized Camping Ordinance (May 23, 2012) was enacted as law.
This ordinance, which became a tactic of criminalizing disadvantaged humans who often street preform or carry signs requesting donations of assistance across the nation, are best known as Urban Camping bans. Denver is one of the city’s which have lead the way in pushing these ordinances in Colorado. In the University of Denver Sturm College of Law report, “Too High A Price 2: Move on to Where?”
In Denver, the price of homes continues to outstrip wage and job growth in the area. Throughout 2017, the price of houses grew at the 5th highest rate in the nation. In Denver, a typical home now requires a salary of more than $81,000 a year. Correspondingly, Denver rental prices are also increasing. In 2017, rental prices rose over 15%. The price of renting a one-bedroom apartment climbed to $1,410 per month, which is roughly 80% of a minimum wage worker’s monthly income. Simultaneously, homelessness did, and continues to, dramatically increase. (Page 4, Too High A Price 2: Move on to Where?)
The picture this report paints in Colorado is a bleak one. In order to bring awareness to the issue, this autonomous group of activists that come out of Occupy Denver and run a Facebook page “Boycott the Urban Camping Ban” calls for a direct repeal of the laws in Denver which criminalize and jail offenders for not being able to afford to spend 80% of their incomes monthly for a roof over their head. In order to draw attention to these laws, community members provide a family meal where all are welcome and clothing is available for those in need.
This sounds like a logical role for a community of humans to fill. People who don’t have beds don’t have kitchens to cook food. Here’s where this takes a twist, because this group of people are not a church, a 501c, or any documented entity – instead they are a Autonomous group holding direct actions – boycotting businesses, educating consumers and tourists, and providing meals for those in need.
In Denver there are many groups that provide food, – like brown bag lunches with a water bottle, plastic sandwich bags, and foil or plastic wrappers leftover from the food inside. Maybe a community effort to provide meals uses warming trays full of food. Generally there are still plastic silverware and Styrofoam cups or plates. Even where paper or other forms of food service are provided – in most settings, it’s disposable. As you already know, disposable is destruction. And this is what makes this community unique. These community meals, served on the 16th St. Mall in Denver, Colorado – are done with a Zero Waste Model in mind.
Meals are prepared in home kitchens. Food preparation varies based on the type of meal being offered. Stainless steel hotel pans, crock pots, Pyrex baking dishes and rice cookers can often be seen lining the streets or stacked on tables. The whole operation pops up in minutes. Before people know it there are five gallon jugs of coffee or water, home cooked meals, day old breads and rescue fruits, vegetables or salads for all who come. This can mean up to 150 people a meal – where all the work is done by compassionate volunteers who give their time to others, because it’s the right thing to do.
Organizing these activities in the community are quite simple. Picking a date, time and location to provide for others where they exist in the community should be quite easy. One key is repetition, both in duties for volunteers and for when/where the action will take place. For many, combining the resources and finding ways to acquire the materials to do pop up programs will be a more challenging task. Additionally, many communities have ‘laws’ against such activities like handing out meals, setting up tables or sitting in public spaces without having funding to pay for a place to sleep. This may cause conflict to arise between ‘police’ who’s job it is to protect property and the ‘rights of businesses’ to profiteer over the rights of humans to survive and receive aid.
The key for those environmentally minded, is how to provide meals without creating massive quantities of waste. The members of Occupy Denver have chosen to create accountability by using all sustainable dishware for those coming every week. Instead of water bottles, 5 gallon jugs are available. Plates and silverware were aired at local thrift stores or by donation. Community members use dishwashers to ease the burden of washing dishes and everybody takes a little to spread out the work. This is also how meals arrive, each week.
For those receiving meals, eating in real plates makes for a nice change. For the community, it just makes good sense and it teaches everybody to be a bit more considerate of the planet. There are other advantages also. From building up community, talking to people and learning their real struggles, even cleaning the dishes at the end of the day, there are many reasons to do the next right thing and give time to those who have less than ourselves. To learn more about homelessness and laws read how laws against homelessness increase the struggle to survive.