Urban Camping – Laws against homelessness increase the struggle to survive

 

Rock Bottom Firefighter Day

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)

 

Homeless Denver April 21 2018 004

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.

Advertisements

5 reasons Denver’s proposed plastic bag fee has potential

According to a report on CBS-Denver, “Denver City Councilwoman Deborah Ortega has proposed a five-cent fee for every disposable bag used at grocery and convenience stores in the city limits.”  Under the current proposal 60% of this fee would go to the city while 40% would go to vendors.  The estimates of combined generated revenues according to CBS-Denver is in excess of 6  million of dollars!  While many will consider 2 million dollars in handling fees an excessive cost, and a potential ‘tax on the poor’; I would like to propose that there are at minimum five reasons why ‘Plastic user fees’ are of value.

1.  Plastic pollution is a real and present danger to our environment.  Researchers at the 5 Gyres Institute have found significant evidence that plastic pollution is a global issue polluting the natural homes off both land, sea and air animals around the globe.  In a lab project for 7th to 12th graders indicates that some bird colonies have as much as 80% of their populations that have consumed plastic in their diet.

2. User fees are proven to change consumption patterns. According to an interview by NPR’s Michel Martin, Michael Bolinder of Anacostia Riverkeeper indicates that plastic bag consumption went from over 22 million bags on a monthly basis to about 3 million.  Community governments around the country are seeing the reduction of single use plastic as additional fees encourage citizens to modify consumption patterns and incorporate more conservation minded practices into their daily lives.

3. Single Use plastic bags have low plastic recycling demand.  Consider that while many grocery and chain retail locations provide recycling collection of single use bags, curbside recycling does not.  Because the plastic density and composition of these bags there is little demand for this grade of plastic.  This limited demand means little to no profit margin, and can actually be a financial burden to waste management which is why these plastics are restricted from community recycling programs.

4. Plastic does not decompose.  Instead it behaves like rock in that it breaks down into smaller portions of itself.  Plastic is made through a chemical manufacturing process called polymerization, and is designed to be a lightweight alternative for manufacturing, storage and transportation costs.  Unfortunately, the only way to convert plastic back to natural materials is to reverse manufacture them via a process called depolymerization.  Studies by the 5 Gyres  Institue show how plastics of all sizes are contaminating oceans and beaches around the planet as well as all five great lakes.

5. Plastic is made up of oil, a primary source of single use consumption on the planet.  A report by Friends of the Earth states, “Humans today extract and use around 50% more natural resources than only 30 years ago, at about 60 billion tonnes of raw materials a year”.  This includes increasing levels of oil consumption globally that has pushed for the expansion of environmentally dangerous sources of gas and oil collection like Bitumen Tar Sands and Hydraulic Fracturing.

So while the current proposal before Denver’s City Council may not be the version that gets a final vote, I hope that you will agree that the prospect of such an action is a timely and responsible course in environmental responsibility.  If you are not already in the habit of bringing reusable shopping bags, your family and friends may  thank you, plus think of all the money you will be saving once the fee’s begin!

What is your food policy?

When you go to the grocery store, how much effort to you put into thinking about what the food policy of your household is?   It’s an interesting question that has been pushing me around the web lately.

I grew up in Wisconsin and quite honestly, I remember having a garden all my childhood.  I worked in the gardens, spending summers weeding plants, composting and of course harvesting the ‘vegetables’ of my labor.  I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I’ve had the pleasure of spending time on a couple – harvesting hay and milking cows were the two things I enjoyed the most.

In addition, my grandparents would often take me out to find asparagus and walnuts.  In the kitchens of family members, and at home, preparing meals with naturally grown foods was a common occurrence.  At the same time, I remember growing up listening to local farm reports and highly respected media personalities talk about Roundup Ready crops.

Through some secondary education and into the career world I didn’t consider my diet much, consuming pizza and mass produced and big farm manufactured foods.  Based on my consistency of food consumption and employment my weight, mental state and overall health has fluctuated greatly.  Over the years I have seen how processed and prepackaged food have enhanced the levels of illnesses in others.   Avoiding soda and high sugar processed items, as well as my personal battle to prevent the purchase of plastics in my daily life has helped me to eat fairly responsibly.  I don’t by any means eat organic and it’s difficult to eat 100% fresh.  Especially on a budget.

Then I learned about Genetically Modified Foods also known as GMO’s.  I learned how, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications,  roughly 90% of core crops: Sugar Beets, Soybeans, Corn and Cotton are grown with gmo seeds.   Modified seeds can’t be that bad, can they?  It’s a question I asked and did lot’s of research on.  Recently I saw a picture, it made things very clear to me, showing how GMO corn is: Corn +DNA from soil bacteria + genes from e.coli plus more bacteria that causes tumors in plants.

So, now I have a food policy.  In every circumstance possible I buy local.  I am trying to avoid shopping for processed foods, go to farmers markets and am doing my best to buy free range animals.  When in doubt, I am using a smartphone app call Buycott.  This app allows me to scan the bar codes of products and it tells me if I am about to purchase an item that is conflict with my core values.   In addition I am watching movies like Food Fight ( you need a HULU account), following entities like The Organic Consumers Association and watching feeds on Facebook from groups in my community like March Against Monsanto- Denver and GMO Free USA the parent group of many GMO free state entities.

All of this takes work, time and effort.  In addition to changing my shopping habits, I’m contributing time in my community focusing on educating others about what I have learned.  In addition I’m pushing for legislation that requires Food Labeling on all things containing any GMO products.

For me, it’s worth the quality of life, and the knowledge that I am not killing myself in the process of enjoying life.  Do you think being educated and making the kind of changes I am is worth it?

 

I was there when the shooting happened, and it’s not going to change my behavior…

Really, it pisses me off more than anything.  Gunfire isn’t exactly a new thing to me.  I’ve fired guns before, I’ve lived in a community where (as aggravating as it is) guns were shot fairly regularly within city limits.  Sitting on the front porch,  I could hear them in the distance, “down the hill” if you will.  Now I don’t feel that I lived in a war zone, but I’m not a stranger to the sound of gunfire in my life.  It’s not like I lived in a war zone or a ghetto where it was around me on a constant basis either.

I moved to  Denver, Colorado about ten months ago.  The first thing I did when moving here – volunteer for HeavenFest as a security agent.  My biggest difficulty was working with security executives that didn’t handle crowd control very well.  As a matter of disclosure I will state that my experiences in security include events from local bars to massive 20,000 in attendance events.  Then there was the Aurora theater shooting,   that occurred within 3 weeks of arriving.  While I personally wasn’t at the theater, my brother-in-law and I  had talked about going.  Fortunately my nephew wore us out that night and we opted out.   When I was at worship that Sunday it was obvious that many of the church had been there for a youth group outing, and had been involved as people- and as pastors in the love given as first responders.  Having been surrounded by people personally impacted by the shooting experience was intense, but over the last several months things have been quiet.

Then there was Saturday.   I decided that I would go to the ‘4/20’ celebrations at Civic Center Park with curiosity in mind.  I am an environmental reporter and one of the most common arguments for the reintroduction of Cannabis and Hemp into the US marketplace on an industrial basis is the Environment.  From paper production to textiles and new bio-fuel production, I expected legitimate information on the plethora of uses for HEMP, to be made available. Additionally, the news indicated that there was to be a significant police presence due to the bombings in Boston.  There were concerns of the size of the event in addition to the recent Boston Bombing that caused my sister to advise caution and quote news reports before I left for the event.  I like many new to Denver, did manage to spend time exploring much of Denver With these voices in the back of my head, as well as personal reasons, I was not on site during the actual ‘zero hour’ when, as I have read, thousands of people participated in consuming Cannabis simultaneously.  Instead I arrived an hour before the zero hour, did some reconnaissance work examining the layout of the event, left for the ‘main event’  and returned afterwards, anticipating a large crowd who would be taking a breather.  Instead I found several things occurring.

First: the event was over in the minds of many.  It appeared that the only ‘cool’ thing was to be on site to participate in the consumption of cannabis, also known as marijuana, for the Pot Holiday.

Second:  Security was a joke.   I’ve done more work preparing for large scale events that were expected to have 1/4 of the crowd, than was probably spent putting up snow or ‘security fencing’.   I found no general comfort at any time in the efforts of the police or other security people in holding any type of presence.

Third:  When gunshots went off, things were a mess.  Yes there was a wave of people fleeing the site, and there were people cowering underneath tables and behind one another.  There was no security to be seen yet I wasn’t afraid.

Now let me be clear, I didn’t run.  I didn’t hide, I counted several pops, said, “oh that’s just some dumb ass with a firework” and watched the crowd.  As the first wave was running by, my phone went off.  It was gunshots after all.  Well, shots were fired, but they aren’t going off anymore.  It took ten minutes to get two items of food because to food vendor was stoned stupid.  I placed my order multiple times before I got my food, but hey the place was emptying out, might as well get something to eat.  By the time we got our meal, ate it and left the grounds a process that took over twenty minutes; I still didn’t see any type of security professional or police on site.

And now, I’m mad about it.  I’m not going to stop going to public events.  I refuse to fell less safe.  I refuse to be scared.  I am however mad.  I’m mad that we have to be aware that my life could be threatened today.  I’m mad that we aren’t as able to feel safe and free at large community events.  I’m mad that I am analyzing the event and writing this post about it.  I’m mad that people would bring children of all ages to a closed off marijuana  smoking festival and I’m mad that they weren’t safe while they were there.  I hope everyone will share this feeling, “I will not be timid, I will not be confined and I will not focus on fear.”  Were you somewhere something tragic happened?  Go ahead and repeat that italicized sentence a few times, it’s ok.

But I’m digressing.  For the record it’s not the public consumption of marijuana that I’m bothered by.  It’s the way this group of people is treated as second class and not deserving of something that represents events put on by those who are highly respected.  I’ve seen more security at a Winter Jam concert where tens of thousands of Christians combine for a night of worship, fellowship and community and are protected mostly by volunteers there to do the same thing while ensuring everybody else has a good time.    I’m shocked that I entered and left an area with security fencing and no security personnel.   I get that this was a sketchy event to begin with and I’m sure there were concerns about who would or wouldn’t come if there was someone looking at you and your belongings when you come in.   At the same time this was a family event and while  I admit that I don’t know anybody other than the Pillsbury Dough Boy that might enjoy going through security.  However it’s the same measures that might have convinced someone to leave their gun at home.  After all in Colorado it’s still Illegal to have both at the same one time. 

Blizzard Warnings in April – how is your garden coming?

Having moved to Colorado in July of last year, adjusting to a different “Normal” to what Spring means is definitely something new.   Having lived in Wisconsin and Illinois all of my life, I am accustomed to April Showers, not Snow and Blizzards.  It got me to thinking that I am missing something in my day to day life.  Gardening!

I have been aware of many different changes since moving to a concentrated metropolitan area for the first time in my life.  One of these is composting.  Breads, lawn clippings, banana peels, egg shells, coffee grounds and plant matter of all kinds!   For the fist time in years I find myself considering ways that I can participate in the social effort of responsible food development.  There are some community gardens, and based on the snow count, I’m sure I’m not to late to get in on a plot I’m sure, however with all the changes of work, I really think I want to find someone who will co-work the gardens.

I can hear it now, Brian – planting a garden sounds fun but I don’t have the time.  Well, I understand that people think gardening is labor intensive.  And maybe for some it is.  I will state this one thing, Gardening is my peace.  This is the one thing that I get to do, where I can slow down, take a little time out of the go go go of the modern world and say Hello to God, the dirt, worms, and even the weeds.

The other excuse you are going to give is that you don’t know what to do!  (This is where I get giddy).  I met Lorraine the other day while riding the train to school.  She’s into gardening and she has one of the most amazing websites I have ever explored.  You can find it here.
http://www.vegetable-gardening-with-lorraine.com  Now the home page has a lot of things to consider, however if you just want to know where to start, this is the link I would choose.
http://www.vegetable-gardening-with-lorraine.com/starting-a-vegetable-garden.html

Now I haven’t gotten to garden today, but I sure have gotten to write about it.  Hopefully this will allow someone who hasn’t the slightest idea a place to begin to learn and explore!  I hope you enjoy her site!

 

West Denver Trout Unlimited February Meeting

As I continue to expand upon  the topics and interests of  CutThePlastic I want to experiment with different types of activites that might become of interest to you, as they are to me.  First up, is sharing the posting of other blogs.  Here I have found, for those in the Denver Area with Fishing interests, the  West Denver Trout Unlimited February Meeting.  Looks like it would be a fun event to attend!