Councilman Albus Brooks discusses the proposed ban on urban camping

Also read: For the homeless, "urban camping" is no picnic

At last Thursday's meeting of Denver's Commission on Homelessness — the first meeting of the group since last November — Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks, who wrote the proposed ordinance to ban "urban camping" in Denver, tried to explain that this proposal hadn't come out of the blue. "We've been talking about this bill since August," he said.

That was the wrong thing to say in a room filled with shelter directors and homeless advocates, some of them wearing "Homes Not Handcuffs" buttons. If the camping-ban ordinance had been in the works for eight months, they asked, why didn't they see the proposal any sooner? "I know you know how to reach me," said Terrell Curtis, executive director of the Delores Project, a women's shelter. "We need to slow this down." At that, the packed room erupted in applause.

Mayor Michael Hancock tried to defend the proposal. "We're not trying to hurt people," he said, calling the notion that the ban would criminalize the homeless "absurd" and "insulting." Allowing people to sleep on the streets is "morally inhumane," the mayor continued, explaining that during the winter, when the city dispatched vans that would take homeless people to a shelter, "we had no way to compel them to go with us." The camping ban, he said, would give the city a tool to make people safe.

But the city's motivations aren't all humanitarian; they're also economic. Like Brooks, Hancock said he had walked the 16th Street Mall and seen "one hundred to two hundred people" preparing to camp out, many of them "vagabond" youth from out of town. And like Brooks, he's received e-mails from people who are tired of being pestered by the homeless when they go to the theater, and from others who are afraid to live downtown.

While some commission members quarreled with Hancock's view that the ban would benefit homeless people — Tom Luehrs, president of the St. Francis Center, which provides shelter and other services, said that homeless people interpret the proposed ban to mean they're disliked and unwanted — much of the discussion focused on the perceived secrecy and behind-closed-doors nature of how the proposal came about. Councilwoman Debbie Ortega said the conversation should have started with the forty-member commission, not with city council. Councilwoman Judy Montero said the bill was kept hush-hush in city council until the last minute.

Although Bennie Milliner, executive director of Denver's Road Home, admits the city cannot shelter everyone who would be displaced by the ordinance, he says his organization is working on a plan to increase beds, which also calls for a central dispatch hotline and the city's first 24-hour homeless resource center. Denver Chief of Police Robert White has promised a "very passive" approach by law enforcement, which would include no citations or arrests in the ordinance's first year unless approved by a supervisor.

But few in the room were satisfied with the city's plans. Leslie Foster, executive director of the Gathering Place, a daytime drop-in center for homeless women, made a motion that council delay voting on the ban until a commission subcommittee can meet to discuss the impacts of such a ban and the resources and funding that would be needed to mitigate them. It passed unanimously — but is not binding. Denver City Council is still slated to vote on the proposal May 7.

Last week, Westword sat down with Albus Brooks, the proposal's main proponent on council, in the conference room of his District 8 office. The room was hand-painted by Denver children, who provide some of his inspiration, he says.

Westword: How did the idea begin?

Albus Brooks: When I first got onto council, one of the first issues people were talking about was we have an incredible homeless issue. The homeless providers were saying, "We need to expand. We need to grow. We need to provide more services." Businesses and residents were saying, "We've never seen it this bad." One of the first things I saw were multiple, multiple, multiple responses from conventioneers where the first and second thing they'd say was, "Do something. I thought you guys were supposed to be the leaders. You're nationally renowned in your effectiveness towards homelessness."

You can't implement good policy unless you understand it from a grassroots level. So I went to see it for myself on the mall, hung out in a hoodie at Triangle Park, walked down the Platte. It's not 100 percent what anyone has been saying. It's not 100 percent hurt and broken and vulnerable. It's not 100 percent travelers. I have spent two-thirds of my time working and visiting and learning about our homeless issue in Denver since July.

That's when you counted 178 homeless people?

On the mall, yes. Now, the Downtown Denver Partnership has ambassadors and outreach workers who have counted up to 200, so on that night that's just where it was.

How much input did you request from the providers in drafting the bill?

Most providers are saying, "We want to help draft the ordinance." That's not going to happen. I have to draft the ordinance, and this is what's going to happen: You react and be in it. But I completely understand: Our mayor, who was leaving Denver's Road Home, moved on. A new mayor comes on, and he has a different focus. Amber Callendar was running Denver's Road Home and she left. And then Bennie [Milliner, current executive director of Denver's Road Home] comes in, and we hadn't had a meeting of the Denver Homeless Commission, which I'm on, since November. It's a perfect storm. I get it. I understand why people are upset. Come to the table now, and let's figure out a solution. I'm more open to this than people know or assume.

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16 comments
Guest
Guest

If Carlton Banks (Albus Brooks) hates homeless people so much, why doesn't he just move back to Bel-Air? Problem solved.

Hot Sauce in my Bag
Hot Sauce in my Bag

Why do you hate local small business people so much? See I can do it too

Sarah Hidey
Sarah Hidey

It appears that this ordinance is a result of profits coming before people. There were compromises/amendments on the table that would have ensured expanded services for the homeless were present BEFORE the ordinance was passed. But at every juncture, it seems that Albus Brooks was not interested in compromise because the votes were there to get it passed as is. I can't speak for Brooks' intentions, but the lack of openness and seeming arrogance that came through in this article and other outlets really has made me lose faith in the progressive, inspirational leader I thought he was.

Denverite
Denverite

Albus Brooks and Mayor Hancock should beRepublicans. Can't wait to vote them out. They are sneaky in their dealings.

Concerned
Concerned

During hard economic times with many people out of work, it seems a jobs creation bill would be more appropriate for those capable of working. It's so sad that the homeless situation is being addressed by a bill that makes poverty a crime.

Anonymous

calhounp
calhounp

I'd like to publish some of these comments in our print edition, ideally with the author's full name/town. If that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

jimmie c boswell
jimmie c boswell

passing any law, that is against, your antiG-D religious beliefs. is still, unconstitutional too.

did any of you ever consider, that G-D is attempting to give you a wake up call? so why do any of you, think that G-D, is pissed enough at you all, to command this to happen?

and it sure is a sign, that G-D is not pleased with any of you. and G-D is still in charge, till the end of the sixth day here in, TheTorah.

and if you think, G-D'S Son is going to give you a break. when G-D puts Him in charge again, for the soon to be seventh day. you might want to, reconsider that errant thought. cause if you have all made G-D, that angry at you all. then He is not exactly going to be, a happy camper either.

jimmie c boswell
jimmie c boswell

yeah! and while were at it, lets just make the symptoms of cancer illegal too. since the cause of the problem, does not truly want it solved. because there government jobs, depend upon creating problems they bever want to cure.

Buck Burgett
Buck Burgett

Stick to your guns Mayor Michael Hancock. Your analysis is correct. The people that are against this are the very ones that created this mess.

Robert
Robert

Thank you Councilman Brooks for doing the right thing. As someone that lives downtown, I applaud your efforts.

As someone that has had homeless drunks passed out in the doorway to my building, I invite the opponents of this ordinance to have these people hang out in the entry to your home and then tell me that this isn't an issue.

I see the same characters day after day doing nothing but drinking, taunting visitors on the 16th street mall and then passing out our relieving themselves on the street. This makes our city look bad to tourists, visitors and those that are thinking about locating a business downtown. There has been so much progress in creating a vibrant downtown and something needs to be done to keep it as a visitor-friendly place. People will stop investing in a locale that appears unsafe and one way to make a place look rundown or dangerous is to have hundreds of homeless people wandering the streets.

There are certainly those that have fallen on tough times, but there is a larger majority that simply don't want to conform and instead of working to better themselves, they find it easier to do nothing. Just read the other story in Westword about urban camping. The young couple--who ask me for money almost daily--have no interest in bettering their lives; and if the ordinance passes, they will just find a new city and the pattern of doing nothing will continue. Or, talk to the Occupy Denver "protestors" which don't really protest as much as vandalize, litter and do drugs.

James
James

I agree. Can't stand all the dirty homeless vagrants! Can't we form some sort of camps for them? Let's get them all together in one place & contain them. You're right on Robert. Time to cleanse/ clean up our society!

We need more people who look like Robert & me! Conform or get out of our city & my neighborhood!

Jason
Jason

I was disheartened when I emailed Mr. Brooks, my councilperson, inquiring about his office hours and I learned that he had NO open office hours. I also emailed him my questions and concerns and never received an email back. It seems as though Mr. Brooks didn't do his due diligence when crafting this plan if so many people and organizations feel as though they have not been a part of the process. A thoughtful and systemic solution to this complex problem is needed but if many of the key stakeholders are not at the table I doubt that this will be found.

 
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