Editorial: A needed delay on criminalization

April 23, 2012 in Press, Video

By Working Group on Ordinance Criminalizing Homelessness, Occupy Denver

The editors at the Denver Post are wondering what a month-long delay on an ordinance criminalizing homelessness will accomplish. In a strongly worded letter calling the ban a “hardening of heart towards the poor,” the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) called on city council members to “vote NO on this ordinance so a true discussion on the needs of the homeless can begin.”

We need a true discussion on the needs of the homeless.

There are no short cuts to successfully addressing homelessness in the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. It is a short cut for the editors at the Denver Post to say “the lines have been drawn and it’s pretty clear this issue will remain divisive” so let’s just vote without further discussion. It was a short cut for Mayor Hancock and Councilman Albus Brooks to try to speed an ordinance through city council without proper discussion with the Denver Homeless Commission and the homeless community themselves.

As Dr. Chad Kautzer, philosophy professor at the University of Colorado Denver, recently shared with Councilman Albus Brooks on Occupy Denver’s Facebook Page:

The values informing your ordinance are deeply troubling. You’re responding with punitive measures to vulnerable and marginalized populations that are growing during an economic crisis, rather than with proactive measures that improve services and treat all of our neighbors with respect. Additionally, your sense of urgency clearly relates to the interests of Denver businesses, rather than the desperate condition of the homeless. In short, you have pitted the interests of the most fortunate against the needs of the most vulnerable. This is unacceptable and no amount of facts can right such a wrong.

The Post editorial claims that this “has been portrayed as the product of business interests,” and then attempts to refute this premise, without referencing any outside groups or citizens that are supportive of the ordinance. In reality, overwhelming majorities of residents have packed city council meetings to oppose the ordinance. The Post fails to disclose that it is a member of the Downtown Denver Partnership, the alliance of business interests that has been one of the few groups pushing the urgency of this ordinance. We expect better from our newspaper than to mislead readers by failing to disclose this conflict of interest.

It is unfortunate that The Denver Post would rather stand with their fellow business members of the Downtown Denver Partnership in attempting to criminalize homelessness, than to work towards true solutions for some of our city’s most marginalized persons.

This ordinance has a silver lining: experts and policy makers are now focused on homelessness. Now that people are paying attention, we need to roll up our sleeves and work to eradicate homelessness in a loving and compassionate way and better the futures of those in dire need.

Sending our fellow citizens to jail for struggling in this economy is not the answer. To quote the Bruce Springsteen song, “We take care of our own.”