Occupy Denver Opposes Further Criminalizing Homelessness

March 30, 2012 in Press

On Friday, March 30, 2012 over 50 concerned citizens met and discussed ways we can Take Action to Stop this Proposed Ordinance.

Stop the ban on “urban camping”

Right now, Denver’s City Council is considering a new ordinance being put forward by Councilman Albus Brooks that will “ban urban camping” in the city. The proposed ban would include sleeping in alleys, doorways, parks, on sidewalks, or any place our homeless sisters and brothers have traditionally used to seek refuge and rest at night. This ordinance would disproportionately affect the poor of our community and further jeopardize the already vulnerable homeless population by making it illegal to sleep on any public or private property – that is, absolutely anywhere – in Denver’s city limits, even if they have nowhere else to go. It is more legislation in a long line of punitive measures being taken against a population that is at the extreme of the economic disparity and injustice and has been most affected by the economic recession.

What Occupy Denver Is Doing About It

Occupy Denver is mounting an effort to stop this inhumane piece of legislation. We are networking with homeless advocates, organizations, the homeless and others from the public to stand up and fight for the homeless. Sleeping is a human need, and this ordinance criminalizes all those who do not have the privilege of having a house in which to sleep. If you stand against this ordinance, we encourage you to collaborate with us in stopping this ban. Check the website for updates, or email general@occupydenver.org for meeting information.

Occupy Denver is calling on everyone who opposes this ordinance to call City Council members, Congresspeople, Colorado Senators and let them know how this ordinance would devastatingly affect the people of Denver.

If city council fails to see the catastrophe of this proposed ban on “urban camping” in the early stages of the process, Occupy Denver will heighten our voice in protest until they can hear that the people of Denver refuse to let the monied interests further marginalize those with the least.

Detailed information about this inhumane ordinance can be found on the Housing Not Handcuffs section of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless website.

Occupy Denver’s Position on the Proposed Ban

The Occupy Movement grew in response to the growing economic disparity in this country. Occupy Denver stands in solidarity with all victims of economic injustice, especially the homeless. A great deal of the Occupy Denver community has been affected by homelessness, and this ordinance directly affects our brothers and sisters who are less fortunate.

Though those backing this ordinance have not yet said so out right, this ordinance is also directed at the Occupy movement itself. This is yet another attempt to silence the protest of the people against the growing economic disparity and overt influence of money in politics.

A ban on sleeping in public spaces perpetuates the disappearance of the commons and the first amendment right to freedom of assembly. The public space we have in which to gather and live – space open for all people, not owned by private interests – would be further lost to the monied interests of the city by closing down our very sidewalks and alleys to the most basic human activity – sleep. Occupy Denver refuses to let the commons disappear. In the face of systematic oppression of those with little by those with much, we reclaim public space as the people’s.

While this ordinance would affect the 6 month long standing protest and occupation at Civic Center and Lincoln Park – and the freedom of protest and assembly, our unwavering opposition to this ordinance is based in the counter intuitive and mean spirited idea that those without a house should be penalized for sleeping outside in the only places they can. As many within the community of Occupy Denver have no house to go to at night, stopping this ordinance is not just a weekend protest, it is a deeply personal need.

Osage, a Marine veteran, volunteer with Denver’s Road Home, and participant in Occupy Denver states his opposition, “Don’t ban urban camping. Help put veterans in apartments and homes. We have the empty houses. Get them the health care and mental health care that they need. Just make sure that they are okay. ”

Dangers of this Ordinance

The effects of this ordinance will be devastating for the homeless community. It opens the door to heightened police brutality – already an enormous, long-standing issue in Denver – which will lead to increased tensions between the homeless and the police. It will effectively make being homeless in Denver illegal. Making the real situation of the homeless – lacking a place to sleep indoors – a police issue, and will perpetuate the stereotype that all homeless people are criminals, drug users, or violent. As Benjamin, a houseless youth and organizer with Occupy Denver explains, “Homelessness is not a crime. The urban camping ban will devastate communities that choose to sleep in safe public spaces over staying in jail, dangerous shelters or risking it in hidden dark corners. Women and youth should not have to choose between police harassment or unsafe areas.”

This ordinance will also jeopardize the comprehensive review of Denver’s homeless shelters by adding extra burden to their already strained infrastructure. The city of Denver must respond to the economic crisis with positive solutions that respect the inherent dignity of each community member. Real solutions are possible if the city of Denver addresses its challenges with a vision of inclusive community. Homelessness is most effectively addressed by increasing affordable housing and supportive housing opportunities.

Stand for Social Justice over Economic Privilege

This ordinance is another clear example of our government putting the interests of big businesses – many of which are not even based in Colorado – over those of the economically disenfranchised and about putting economic privilege ahead of social justice. The City Council represents the public – and the man sleeping in an alley is as much a member of the public as the million-dollar business. And despite the fact that there are many more homeless members of the public than million-dollar businesses, the City Council is pushing the homeless out of the city to satisfy the monied interests of downtown Denver. This is a travesty for which we will not stand.

As a movement seeking a world where the well being of people is respected over the profits of a few, Occupy Denver urges you to speak out in opposition to this ban on “urban camping.” Come join us in our effort to stop this ban!

Council People to Call

Mayor – Michael B. Hancock. (720) 865-9011, MileHighMayor@denvergov.org

At Large – Robin Kniech, (720) 337-7712, KniechatLarge@denvergov.org
At Large – Deborah Ortega, (720) 337-7713, Deborah.Ortega@denvergov.org

District 1 – Susan K. Shepherd, (720) 337-7701, Susan.Shepherd@denvergov.org
District 2 – Jeanne Faatz, (720) 337-2222, Jeanne.Faatz@denvergov.org
District 3 – Paul D. Lopez, (720) 337-3333, Paul.Lopez@denvergov.org
District 4 – Peggy Lehmann, (720) 337-4444, Peggy.Lehmann@denvergov.org (Council President Pro Tem)
District 5 – Mary Beth Susman, (720) 337-5555, Marybeth.Susman@denvergpv.org
District 6 – Charlie Brown, (720) 337 6666, Charlie.Brown@denvergov.org
District 7 – Chris Nevitt, (720) 337-7777, Chris.Nevitt@denvergov.org (Council President)
District 8 – Albus Brooks, (720) 337-8888, Albus.Brooks@denvergov.org
District 9 – Judy H. Montero, (720) 337-7709, Judy.Montero@denvergov.org
District 10 – Jeanne Robb, (720) 337-7710, Jeanne.Rob@denvergov.org
District 11 – Christopher Herndon, (720) 337-7711, Christopher.Herndon@denvergov.org