Week Two: Take Action Against Ordinance to Criminalize Homelessness

April 14, 2012 in Press

The proposed Denver city ordinance to criminalize our homeless sisters and brothers is now making its way through various meetings at the city. There are two meetings this week about the ordinance at the Health, Safety, Education & Services Committee and the Commission on Homelessness. Occupy Denver has formally requested time to speak at both meetings.

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 17, 1:30 pm – Health, Safety, Education & Services Committee (Agenda)
Room 391, City and County Building
1437 Bannock St, Denver, Colorado 80202

Thursday, April 19, 3:30 pm – Denver Homeless Commission
Parr-Widener Community Room, City and County Building
1437 Bannock St, Denver, Colorado 80202

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.

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.

Dr. Cornel West: “Don’t Let This Happen in Denver.”

Dr. Cornel West was the keynote speaker at the University of Colorado Denver’s Art of Social Justice Conference on Thursday, April 12th. He opened his speech to overflow crowds condemning the proposed Denver city ordinance criminalizing homelessness. “We are in the midst of a deep democratic movement that includes solidarity with the homeless, with our brothers and sisters who are homeless.” Dr. West is a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual. He is the Class of 1943 University Professor at Princeton University.

ACLU: “Ordinance Inhumane”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado wrote a letter on April 16th to the Denver City Council and Mayor’s Office.

The ACLU of Colorado finds the Ordinance mean spirited. Simply put, the Ordinance criminalizes homelessness in open view. Arguments to the contrary are simply false and statements to the effect that the Ordinance does “not endorse arrests” ignore the plain language of the Ordinance. The ordinance clearly provides for enforcement through citations and arrest…

Since the recession in 2007, family homelessness nationwide has increased 20%. In Denver, the percentage of homeless families has increased 9% since 2009. Almost one-forth of Denver’s homeless are newly homeless…

Also troubling is rhetoric to the effect that the City will provide additional beds “after” the Ordinance is passed. When asked for specifics on this point, Councilman Albus Brooks has said that Crossroads and the Salvation Army will provide additional beds. This statement is disingenuous. Crossroads and the Salvation Army close their beds on April 30. The City will simply allow them to stay open through the summer and perhaps longer. This is not providing additional beds to meet an additional need. This is simply allowing those already in those beds to stay a little longer.

The Ordinance is also inhumane in that it makes it unlawful to sleep with something as minimal as a blanket or a sleeping bag. Thus, one risks citation and arrest for sleeping in public with any protection to guard against the elements.

ACLU Letter (pdf)

Denver Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation: “Delay Vote, Listen to Denver Citizens”

The Denver Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) addressed the proposed ordinance on April 14th and asked the City Council to postpone a vote until after the INC’s May 12 meeting where it proposed to sponsor a thorough public hearing.

Whereas, The Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) believes that the City Council ordinance proposing to ban unauthorized camping has significant implications to the citizens and neighborhoods of Denver, and

Whereas, the impacts and ramifications of the ordinance on individuals and neighborhoods has not been fully explored by Denver citizens, and

Whereas, alternatives whereby individuals directly affected by the ordinance have not been developed or are not known to Denver citizens,

Now therefore, be it resolved that INC respectfully asks Denver City Council to postpone a vote on the ordinance banning unauthorized camping on property in the City and County of Denver until such time as adequate, additional public meetings have been held to inform and educate Denver citizens including homeless people, as to the details of the ordinance being established. INC specifically proposes to hold a thorough forum on the subject at the May 12th delegate meeting, wherein all parties, including homeless people be invited, a balanced presentation will be made before all Registered Neighborhood Organizations present and where delegates will have the chance to learn and ask meaningful questions.”

Press Release (pdf)

Watch: Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Ordinance Meeting

If you missed the Tuesday, April 3rd Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee meeting about the ordinance, you may watch it here.

There have been many attempts to criminalize homelessness in the United States and the rhetoric defending these attempts is often the same. Randall Amster, J.D., Ph.D. wrote an essay titled “Patterns of exclusion: sanitizing space, criminalizing homelessness” that provides an important critique of the ideas used to criminalize homelessness.

Dr. Amster teaches Peace Studies and is Chair of the Master’s Program in Humanities at Prescott College and also serves as the Executive Director of the Peace & Justice Studies Association. He authored the work Lost in Space: The Criminalization, Globalization, and Urban Ecology of Homelessness (LFB Scholarly 2008).

Amster led an effort to overturn an ordinance making it a criminal offense to sit on the local sidewalks in Temple, AZ. He argued the case before a Federal Judge and won an injunction against enforcement of the law before it was overturned on appeal. Amster organized “sit-in” demonstrations against the ordinance, which he argued was aimed primarily at the local homeless population. He also helped to spearhead a successful campaign to preserve one of the last remaining open spaces in downtown Temple.

Working Group on Ordinance Criminalizing Homelessness, Occupy Denver