For the homeless, "urban camping" is no picnic

Also read: Councilman Albus Brooks discusses the proposed ban on urban camping

A long time ago, I was a nineteen-year-old homeless kid. The circumstances aren't particularly important, but basically I just surfed too many couches and polished off too many bottles of my hosts' booze until, chronically unemployed and perpetually drunk, I had nowhere to go. But even then, I stayed the hell out of downtown — too loud, too weird, too much hassle — in favor of sleeping in quiet parks around Glendale and Cherry Creek, though that also meant having to move around, sometimes several times, on sprinkler nights. (There is no experience more degrading than being awakened by a sprinkler.)

Today I'm housed and sober, but I still don't get why any homeless person would bother with downtown. So last Monday night, I packed my bag and a thermos of coffee and headed for the 16th Street Mall, ground zero in this city's fight over "urban camping" — an odd term to describe a practice that has historically never involved a single s'mores cookout. A proposal to ban urban camping — and so to ban the homeless from sleeping on the mall and in any other public spots that aren't already off limits — is grinding its way through the machinations of bureaucracy toward a vote next month. It's already been the subject of endless discussion, but one group has been conspicuously absent from the proceedings: the homeless themselves.

10:35 p.m., Colfax and Broadway

Supporters of the proposed ban deny that it has anything to do with the Occupy Denver protests, and while the timing is a little suspect — after all, the homeless have been around forever, while Occupy started occupying Denver's sidewalks just seven months ago, shortly before talk of an "urban camping" ban began — downtown businesses have been very vocal lately regarding their concerns over people sleeping on the 16th Street Mall. No doubt, Occupy is unsightly — sleeping bags, slogan signs and random garbage litter a block-long section of the sidewalk across from Civic Center Park, while an assortment of grizzled old bums and crust-punks smoke weed and loiter — but on the other hand, there aren't any businesses in the immediate vicinity to wring their hands over what effect this might be having on their customers. Even Lil Bear, a nineteen-year-old Occupier who stands in the center of his group and monologues on how the movement is a "combination Great Depression, revolution and I don't even know," seems to get that the impetus behind the proposal is bigger than a congregation of protesters on the corner. "This sucks. This sucks," he muses. "This sucks that people have to live this way. If we're such a great country, then why are all these people out here?"

A little way down from Lil Bear's party, sitting cross-legged on his sleeping bag and staring meditatively toward Civic Center Park (which, like all Denver parks, is closed after 11 p.m.), Occupier Michael McPheron — in his forties, probably, wearing a neat beard, a hat and thick glasses — mulls it over. "Some of them thought it might be directed at us," he says, "although I also think it might be a thing where the government is being hit by problems they can't solve, and they think this might work. I've noticed as long as I've been here, there's always somebody sleeping in a doorway. It seems like any conceivable place where a homeless person might be sleeping, there they are. So I think they might think this might stop that. But I can't see how it would. A person's homeless, they don't really have the ability to go, 'Oh, well, this is illegal, I guess I won't be homeless anymore.'"

Then again, McPheron acknowledges that for him, that exact scenario might be the case. "I'm probably not...I don't know how this is going to sound, but I'm probably not as homeless as some of the people out here. I think I have the ability to claw my way up off the streets pretty quickly. But a lot of these guys couldn't do that," he says. "And even if I do, I'm still going to be occupying."

11:20 p.m., 16th Street Mall at Welton

Picture a homeless guy, and chances are you picture someone who resembles Kent Mollohan — a lot. Out on the streets since 1987, he sports a houndstooth coat and double orthopedic boots — the result of multiple small amputations on his feet over the years because of frostbite — and looks exactly like Gandalf, with an easy smile that, though toothless, is oddly charming. He's hands-down my favorite homeless guy of the night. His explanation for his presence on the mall is simple: "It's the safest place there is."

That seems counterintuitive, but this sentiment is echoed by everyone I talk with this night. On the mall there's a lot of light, patrols come by, people look out for one another. "You know, down here, we're kind of like family," Mollohan reflects. "A couple of nights ago, these guys at Maggiano's over there come out — they're pretty good about giving food to people. I'd already had something to eat, so I said, look, there's three of my friends back in the alley, you know, you have some food, I'll bring some food back to those fellas. And that's what I did. That's kind of the way it works. You know, you get to know people. I know a few people who work around here. I got another guy over there, come out of the Pinkberry some nights and give me a little frozen yogurt. I said to him, hey, no offense, but I'm going to be sleeping in your doorway tonight." He laughs at this.

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40 comments
franklyscarlett
franklyscarlett like.author.displayName 1 Like

Our government and social system refuses to address the issue of homelessness in any holistic way. That person you pass on the street, keeps the workers on the straight and narrow. Must buy, must work, must suck it up and keep slaving away, must feed the economy all the best hours of the day and the best years of your life, because if not society has a special place for you the street. If you step out of line or if you just can't function then, forget it, you are treated like trash a public nuisance. They call it a homelessness problem but what it really is, is a failure of our society to treat its lowest member as a full human person.

Diane
Diane

Seriously what is wrong with you people. The homeless population needs and deserves love just like the rest of us. Open your hearts! On this Mother's Day take a walk down the mall or through the parks off of Park Ave and say hello. Smile. Buy a bag of socks from Walmart and some burgers from Burger King and pass them out. Teach your children compassion and caring. Believe me, you will feel the love.

Peace y'all!

Ball Park Resident
Ball Park Resident

Last night at about 7pm, I came home to find a man with his junk out peeing on my back porch, a very drunk homeless man for that matter. When I confronted said homeless man and told him to leave he said "fuck you I will kick your ass." I explained that I would be calling the cops and the man got violent and struck me. I struck him back and subsequently had him arrested.

This is the SECOND time I have been forced to defend myself in my own neighborhood because of the "Harmless" down trodden folks. I was mugged by a set of them just six month ago or so.

If you think this is an attack on the homeless, then so be it. They keep attacking me anyway, so I guess it is our turn.

K. Donnelly
K. Donnelly

"A paddy wagon rolls by"

This is an unacceptable ethnic slur. What's wrong with "police van"?

confused business man
confused business man

There has to be better places for "urban campers" than to interupt tax paying business'. I travel the country and never see the magnitude of business interuption that I see on the 16th street mall. How about keeping the independent business person in mind who pays taxes/salaries and customers arent afraid of shopping in an outdoor center.

concerned business person
concerned business person

So who stands up for the tax paying business people? How do you run a successful business on the 16th street mall when at 3:30 PM you have homeless people staking their claim for their spot to "camp" overnight? If I was a customer/ tourist from out of state, I would be nervous trying to buy a pair of sunglasses next to a homeless person who has all of his/her worldly possessions that I am almost stepping on. Not a very professional place to conduct business. Where does it say that a homeless person can stake claim of a public street/sidewalk and interfere with business people trying to make a living, paying taxes and paying employees salaries?

franklyscarlett
franklyscarlett

the whole system is built for the tax-paying business people. That's why cops protect property and not the rights of humans.

1st world problems.
1st world problems. like.author.displayName 1 Like

Typical privilege capitalist response. Why don't we get to the root of the problem, rather than criminalizing the exploited class? Why are we using those tax paying dollars to arrest non-violent/homeless people who have nowhere else to go? I'm sure that the homeless people on the 16th street mall don't really effect business all that much, thousands of people shop there everyday. What we need are state run mental health facilities, public and easily accessible drug rehab centers and better jobs programs. And also, less classism.

LuciousAtXo
LuciousAtXo

P.S. Every job I apply for wants to know my permanent address. The streets or a homeless shelter does not go over as well as Goochbite thinks. Perhaps stop munching on the area between a male's anus and ball sack and you will not be so upset and angry. Just a thought.

Peace

Steven B.
Steven B.

Ever try Labor ready or even Ready Express!?!?

I mean there are ways to get a job and build up to a regular job.

When I was discharged from service with service-connected disabilities left me homeless for awhile living in my car in 91.

I was able to get part time work and build up from there without panhandling for cash, granted I don't do illicit drugs or drink booze.

It can be done just takes will power to do it.

LuciousAtXo
LuciousAtXo

I am currently homeless living in Denver. I have 140 hours from what is labeled a "public Ivy league," the University of Texas. I mistakenly thought I could relate with "drug offenders" before doing time for possession in Texas. I also mistakenly thought I could relate with homelessness because of time served in Texas, but even behind bars there is food, a bed, and showers. From every corner of my Texas sized heart I thank every Church, and the individuals and families who support them, in the city of Denver who open their kitchens, bathrooms, and hearts to us every day. 8+)

Molly Santucci
Molly Santucci

What's wrong with these assholes getting a job like the rest of us? Young Sole you sound like a nigger to me. Bums are what those people are. Too bad the cops don't have big, giant scoops to put all those people in and toss them all into the garbage - cuz that's what they are, trash.

Jenn the Godless
Jenn the Godless

Really classy there, toilet-mouth. If I was your momma, I'd smack you in the mouth with a bar of soap.

N*gger Man
N*gger Man

Wow.... what a senseless dumbass. Just use the "n" word with your picture and full name out there. I hope someone slaps the s*** out of you.one of these days :)

calhounp
calhounp

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

YOUNG SOLE
YOUNG SOLE

you are welcome to publish my name/town. tim holland. denver.

Steven B.
Steven B.

You can print my comment.

Steven B.Denver, CO.

YOUNG SOLE
YOUNG SOLE

westword.... i am shocked at how commonly the term "bum" is used in this article, its a very derogatory term and the westword would be better served by not perpetuating its use.

sole

Steven B.
Steven B.

"Bum" fits many of the bums that live off the government dole and refuse to work for a living smoking pot, doing other illicit drugs, and drinking booze all day panhandling for their next fix.

If it looks like a duck, quakes like a duck, then it must be a duck not a goose.

YOUNG SOLE
YOUNG SOLE

so lets say i follow your "logic"here. the homeless people on the 16th mall are NOT living off the government. they are off the grid. people who get welfare and govt housing do not have to sleep outside!

Steven B.
Steven B.

They are called fake homeless.

Many of such live in section 8 housing and on SSI.

When they need drug money dress up like "bums" to panhandle for cash for pot and booze maybe even cigarettes.

Then there are some that get welfare in the form of free heath care at Denver Health thru the CICP program Rate Z. And 6 months of food stamp benefits on the condition they get a job, but that runs out when no job happens. All while living under a bridge or even on the 16th Street Mall.

Goochbite
Goochbite

Fuck the homeless... I lost my job of 18 yrs,,, it took 3 days on craigslist to find a decent job. Freaken bums... if I gotta get up and go every moorning to support my family, why are these a holes standing on the corner begging for a buck so they can get high.... here's a tip for the girls that sleep and beg on the corner of sante fe and mississippi,,,, take yur top off , and then mabey I trow ya a buck or two... how bout u bums try and occupy a workplace instead of trying to sponge off everyone else.. there's a help wanted sign on every other coner down there... bums.... and get off the platte river, it'd be nice to take a walk on the trail w out seeing all yur trash and sleeping idiots out there.... and the so called occupy? U don't even know what your protesting, down w the big buisness, as I see you buying a starbucks w money u basically stole from holding a cardboard sign..... if ya can hold a sign all day, I'm sure ya could hold a mop. That's why when we roll outa bars at 2am you get kicked in the headd. Freaken bums....

soahcalm
soahcalm

ever actually been homeless?....wanna know how hard it is to get hired if anyone suspects you dont have a home?......try not listing an address on an application. add that to the fact that most homeless pple do not own cars...and public transport sucks and costs money.....yes i was homeless and i do not do drugs or drink high price coffey. i just found myself loosing my rented apt because i had a car accident, lost my ride, my job, and my ability to work for about eight months.....(I kinda got banged up a bit) .....so if youve never slept out on the street, in a huge neck brace, i dont want to hear it.....shit happens, and to the best of people at times. Ill be you think that everyone on food stamps lives in a trailor and snorts pills too......your probably a republican by the way you sound an generalize pple.

Randall Flagg
Randall Flagg

Troll.

You dont kick anyone in the head,, you are too afraid of them to even approach them at all! Because your fighting skills are about as epic as your grammar skills.

You talk real tough on the interwebs.. lets see you do it IRL. ;) Go down to 16th st mall and make your proclamations there. Just warn me first so I can be there with my camera. Tell the women they should just prostitute themselves and kick the men in the head! Come on troll! You arent just some guy talking tough behind a keyboard... are you?

Forgotmyname
Forgotmyname

I honestly don't think giving the homeless tickets will solve the problem if what they want to do is advocate for more homeless people to seek shelters and help. Why can't they use the medics and nurses on the street to advocate for that too?

I think its a waste of paper and time, when they could just open a night shelter in Denver just like the overflow system in the same area. Yes, you do have the money, because it just means several more workers. Those ticketing police enforcements can chaperone the night shelter randomly. It took me 5 minutes to think of this and the city took a whole 7 years to provide more tickets....they need to get more creative. (A bit upset).

Ticketing will just lower the credibility of the police force, because they're wasting time writing tickets when there are other criminals out there. Really? Tickets? Give them an outlet please.

Seoinnovation3
Seoinnovation3

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Mr. Farnfarnfarlus
Mr. Farnfarnfarlus

As someone who lives by Skyline Park and deals with the homeless (uneventfully mostly) every day. I support this ordinance.

Why? Not because they are sleeping on the sidewalk but because they are pooping on it, throwing their chicken bones on the ground, their trash on the ground, their everything on the ground...My dog tends to eat 20 chicken bones a year because apparently being homeless means you can't use a trash can.

I do feel bad about many of them and truthfully I couldn't pin point one that has given me trouble. But in general the Large amount of them add up to unsanitary conditions and unsafe conditions for residents of the city.

One question I've always had is are these people from colorado? Personally I think Colorado needs to look out for its own citizens before "train hoppers" that stop by here and there. Is there anyway to ensure that the homeless that "get help" are Colorado citizens?

The other night did tick me off though when two bums were fighting loudly for 15 minutes on the skyline sidewalk. I told a Police officer that the were about to throw down and she goes "oh no" and drives away. I actually saw her drive by about 10 minutes after that and never stop...Local security had to go over multiple times and chat with the fighting bums.

So although I support the ordinance I'm definitely up for debate or other recommendations.

Steven B.
Steven B.

Many of the fake homeless downtown cite their Constitutional right to be homeless and never work a job EVER!

Many live on welfare, and if Amendment 64 passes there will be more homeless down there as folks won't be able to pass the mandatory drug test to get a job.

We the taxpayers will be supporting their pot smoking habit.

No fucking way.

Clean up downtown, and vote NO to Amendment 64 in November.

blizzfull
blizzfull

They're going to let us vote on this, but they're going to shove CISPA so far up your ass you'll have a nose bleed. Enjoy your democracy mother fuckers!

Randall Flagg
Randall Flagg

YEP! That SS scandal is all about distraction from CISPA.

Danshaffer2000
Danshaffer2000

In my opinion, this proposal has little to do with the homeless population and everything to do with shutting down Occupy Denver. The law is being put forth to give the city its justification for breaking up the Occupy "campers" for good and to assure the movement does not return.

Forgotmyname
Forgotmyname

Be honest sir. Occupy Denver has nothing to do with pooping in public and causing havoc randomly on street corners. I have to agree that the homeless is unsightly and there might be some violence involved, but ticketing is a very oustere and wasteful effort. Besides, they are not there to "Occupy Denver." I think they're there because they are having fun that there are more people who want to camp out and it helps them get the word out to get more help. "Occupy Denver" is truly not a good reason to camp out...its utterly ridiculous to think that by sleeping outside the rest of Wall St. will change. NO WAY!

This proposal has more to do with "Institutionalizing the homeless as a solution" because that's the conservative perspective to a rather common problem. "Send them to jail!" instead of "Reform, Heal and Educate." I may sound like a fairy at this point, but not a single change could ever happen if people don't try to understand my view. The sad part is...most of the homeless also are not very open to change too...those are the homeless people we should change, because they really are not mentally sound enough to understand the vast potential they should take up.

Randall Flagg
Randall Flagg

Its not that people arent open to change, Its that they are seeing that alot of promises are made and nothing happens. People tell them all the time how they will give them this or that, or help in a certain way. People rarely follow through though. There would have to be some evidence that this change would actually HAPPEN rather than just be another promise unfulfilled.

Its a complex mixture of patterns and human psychology one would have to wrangle first. Convince them there is "hope", because most dont have that anymore.

Donkey Hotay
Donkey Hotay

When you have a home, "camping" = discretionary recreation

When you are homeless, "camping" = necessary survival

HTH.

Jenn the Mooch
Jenn the Mooch

I spent some homeless time as a teen, and I can empathize with the teen couple here who didn't want to stay at the shelter because of the "drama." Teen-oriented shelters and homes, from what I vividly recall, can be a nightmare with all of the theft, assaults, sexual harassment and interpersonal conflicts. I will venture to say that from my experience, these kids are running from fucked-up home lives, and they have easily accessed abuse triggers, so when you get a group of them together in a small space, things can get nasty.

I don't blame them for chancing it on the mall. There's drama on the street, too, but not the same and not as much.

After I'd used up all my "friend's couch" vouchers, I slept in parks and once, I lucked out and me and a buddy discovered an unlocked, abandoned semi cab with a sleeper, and we slept fine for almost a month until bigger, meaner people stole our "home."

We had a routine every day--get a sack lunch from the local Catholic church, donate plasma--"go plaz" and panhandle until we got enough cash for a cheap motel room and some booze.

It's a shitty life, and when people lecture you or tell you to get a fucking job or call you names it still fucking hurts--and helps nothing. To this day it drives me nuts to hear people abuse/taunt homeless people, and I'll check that shit when I see it. Everyone really should do the same.

And even if you don't want to give them your packet change, at least have some basic human compassion and get 'em a cup of coffee or a breakfast burrito. It cost very little to do a small good, and it costs nothing to not be a dick to people who are already in a shitty spot.

Good story, Mr. Otte.

Jtcolfax
Jtcolfax

This new law, combined with existing laws regarding homelessness is going to be a huge waste of time and money. HERE is a portrait of how things really are now-a-days. this is a video of Denver Health dumping patients off at Occupy Denver:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

 
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