Week Three: Take Action Against Ordinance to Criminalize Homelessness

April 20, 2012 in Press, Video

The proposed Denver city ordinance to criminalize our homeless sisters and brothers has been discussed by the Land Use Transportation and Infrastructure and Health, Safety, Education & Services Committees (watch video summary below). The ordinance was also discussed by the Denver Homeless Commission (see media coverage below). There are two meetings this week about the ordinance, the Mayor-Council Meeting and the Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

We need to take two critical actions this week. First, we need as many people as possible to attend the city meetings about the ordinance. Second, we need to continue to visit, call and email city council members about the ordinance.

Attend City Meetings This Week

Tuesday, April 24, 9:30 am – Mayor-Council Meeting, City Council will meet with the Mayor
Room 389, City and County Building
1437 Bannock St, Denver, Colorado, 80202

Tuesday, April 24, 10:30 am – Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, action item and vote (Agenda)
Room 391, City and County Building
1437 Bannock St, Denver, Colorado, 80202

Visit, Call and Email City Council Members and the Mayor’s Office

Key resources to share with city council members include: The Homes Not Handcuffs page at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless; Occupy Denver’s Open Letter to Mayor Hancock; Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities, a report from the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty; and, Searching out Solutions: Constructive Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness, a new report from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

The Facts: Denver’s Proposed “Urban Camping Ban” Ordinance

If you missed the first two city hearings, here is a short video from experts and policy makers that will arm you with the facts! Please share this with your family and friends in Denver.

Denver Homeless Commission: “Why were we not consulted?”

Members of the Denver Homeless Commission are appointed by Mayor Hancock to participate in a community-wide effort to develop a ten year plan to end homelessness in the City and County of Denver and to help oversee the implementation of such a plan.

The Denver Post reports:

Denver’s Commission on Homelessness on Thursday rebuffed the mayor and asked the City Council to delay any action on a proposed homeless camping ban for at least a month so its impacts could be discussed.

The commission’s request could delay the proposed law’s introduction to the City Council next week and a final vote scheduled for May 7.

“If we are just going to focus on the governance piece, and it moves forward without people having this discussion, then people are going to question, ‘Why am I even on this board?’ ” said Debbie Ortega, a councilwoman and commission member. “It is to ensure we have a balanced discussion … between the business interests and addressing the human side of the issue.”

“We are not looking through rose-colored glasses,” Hancock said. “We know there is a shortage of resources. I believe what this ordinance will do is help us focus even more sharply on helping develop those resources.”

But homeless advocates say the resources should come before the law.

Read full article at the Denver Post.

National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP): “Consider a more constructive approach”

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) sent a letter to Mayor Hancock saying that, “The proposed ordinance criminalizes homelessness by targeting homeless people and punishing them for sleeping in public.”

The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) is the legal arm of the national movement to end homelessness. We write to express our opposition to the proposed anti-camping ordinance currently under consideration by the Committee on Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure, which would effectively ban outdoor sleeping throughout Denver. Measures that criminalize homelessness violate the civil and human rights of homeless citizens, perpetuate homelessness, and impose financial burdens on local governments. We urge you to oppose this proposed ordinance.

The proposed ordinance criminalizes homelessness by targeting homeless people and punishing them for sleeping in public – despite data indicating that Denver has more homeless persons than available shelter beds. Current estimates show that, on any given night, there are approximately 200 more homeless people in need of shelter than there are shelter beds. Without available shelter space, homeless persons will have no choice but to sleep outdoors in violation of the law.

NLCHP letter (pdf)

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – CO: “Vote NO so a true discussion can begin”

Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – CO represents the voice of the Rocky Mountain Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in response to issues of hunger and poverty within Colorado.  While specifically dealing with statewide policy and rulemaking, the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry – CO Policy Board felt it was important to weigh in on the issue of the proposed city-wide ordinance to prohibit unauthorized camping in Denver as to the impact it would have throughout the Denver Metro area.

The ban on camping is an attack on the homeless in our community, and flies in the face of the command of God in Deuteronomy: Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

God calls on ALL of us, Christian or Jew, Businessperson or City Councilmember, Rich or Poor, to care for those in need. This proposed ban is a “hardening of the heart” as it is clear that the city of Denver does not currently have the shelter beds, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, affordable housing or living wage jobs to adequately deal with the issue. But instead of City Council addressing these issues, the hand is being closed to our poor brothers and sisters who will become a criminal simply for being who they are, homeless.

LAM letter (pdf)

Denver Catholic Worker: “The only solution is love”

The Denver Catholic Worker wrote Councilman Albus Brooks about the proposed ordinance to criminalize homelessness. They are located in his district.

We believe that the answer to homelessness lies not in legislation, coercive authority, or in criminalizing behavior. In the words of one of the founders of our movement, Dorothy Day, “The only solution is love.” What we mean is, that the only solution to homelessness, or other forms of poverty in our society, is human relationships; people being led by compassion to take personal responsibility for other people’s well being. We have a house, with extra bedrooms, so we have taken it upon ourselves to lend these rooms out to folks that don’t have any where else to go. These are probably the same poor people you see on your way into work everyday. We don’t get any government money for doing our work, and our reward is human relationships, and love shared through the time we spend with these people. We believe that this is an example of what other people can do. But we often fail to live up to the mission of our work, to serve these people as Christ, and perhaps our most common failure is that we don’t speak up for these people, or speak out against the injustices in the system that has caused much of their suffering.

One of our former guests reminded us that there needed to be more houses like ours. He said our house was the only place he stayed, during the entire time he was homeless, where he was treated with dignity. The homeless of Denver suffer not only houselessness, but also daily life of being treated without dignity, and these conditions are increasingly harder for people who are undocumented, transgendered or queer, females, minorities and those who have mental illnesses. As funding for shelters and housing is cut, and we continue to get more requests for help than we are able to respond to, the need for more people to help each other out on a relational level is obvious.

Denver Catholic Worker letter (pdf)

Additional statements against this ordinance can be found on our “Week Two” campaign page.

 

Working Group on Ordinance Criminalizing Homelessness, Occupy Denver