Then she adds, "At the end of the day, we're cops. We are police officers. So we have to enforce the law."

Even so, the ban has not resulted in any arrests since it was enacted in June. Not a single citation has been written in Denver for violation of the ordinance. DeStaffany explains that the way the law is written, there are many steps before an arrest can actually be made, including a written warning and a visit from a supervisor. And under the law, officers are supposed to evaluate the needs of the individuals they stop and connect them to outreach workers if they need services the police can't provide.

A summary of the camping ban's early impact shows that a total of 192 people were contacted in June and July. A single written warning was given out during that period, and seven individuals were sent to detoxification facilities for drug or alcohol problems. In those two months, 45 women were contacted, compared to 147 males. But while no one was charged with violating the camping ban, at least five people who were contacted were arrested for other violations or prior warrants during that period.

Responding to a call from her commander, DeStaffany heads to Benedict Fountain Park, where she approaches a man sitting on a bench by a cart filled with garbage bags, a blanket and cardboard. She tries to explain the nuances of the camping ordinance and why he's in violation of this new law. "You've got all your stuff here and you're using stuff to protect you from the elements, so you can't do that," she says. "You can stay here, but you can't have blankets and cardboard and all that stuff.... Does that make sense?"

"Not really," he replies.

"That's the law," she says. "That's a camping violation."

She knows this man has slept in the park before. If individuals have shelter items with them and appear to be "dwelling" in a spot, then they are breaking the law. "Does that make sense?" she asks. "I mean, I know it doesn't make sense to you, but do you understand what I'm saying?"

"What if I stash my stuff on the other side of the park?" he asks.

DeStaffany tells him that's a gray area, and she can't guarantee another cop wouldn't just ask him to move along. "We're all kind of learning the law," she says.

DeStaffany estimates that she has ridden 8,000 miles on her bicycle doing her homeless-outreach work; she encounters anywhere from ten to twenty-five homeless people a day. Altogether, the four members of her unit have probably interacted with around 4,000 individuals, she says, and they see several hundred on a regular basis. She's on a first-name basis with many of them.

Already this morning, DeStaffany has stopped to talk with a woman who was nearly hit by a car as she wandered the streets of Capitol Hill. She's spoken with another homeless woman on the 16th Street Mall, who tells the officer that she has too much anxiety to go inside a shelter, but has a boyfriend to protect her. And she's stopped at a small makeshift memorial for a homeless man who recently died; she'd known him for years.

On one of her last stops of the day, by an empty field near I-70 and Quebec Street where some homeless camps have popped up, she spots a woman wandering precariously by the side of the road. "Where are you staying?" DeStaffany asks, as cars speed by on the highway.

"Pretty much in the street," the woman says, explaining that she was staying in motels but can't afford that right now.

DeStaffany tells the woman that she should try to get a voucher through the city or sign up for a lottery at the St. Francis Center.

"I've just been walking and walking and walking to stay out of trouble," the woman says. "But last thing I need is to end up frozen in a field. I'll give them a call."

********

Diana Flahive started as the note-taker. Last fall, when the St. Francis Center got together with several churches to discuss the possibility of volunteering space at night to provide a place where homeless women could sleep, Flahive, the community minister for Capitol Hill United Ministries, offered to take notes at the meetings.

As she heard more about just how desperate the situation was for homeless women in Denver, though, she realized she wanted to be more than just the scribe. "As I learned, my heart became transformed, and in that transformation, in a sense, you have no choice," she says. "In this moment of time, the call has been clear."

The 64-year-old Flahive quickly took the lead as the project coordinator of what became the Women's Homeless Initiative. Although she had no prior experience with homeless issues, her credentials include an impressive resumé of community-based work. She was the director of education and enrichment for young adults at the Cerebral Palsy Center in Denver, served as executive director of Community Schools for Denver Public Schools, and founded a dual-language Catholic school in Denver. A graduate of a New York seminary, she's also an ordained interfaith minister — and her faith contributed to her drive to build the WHI program.

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3 comments
jwc4christ
jwc4christ

I am a homeless man. I have had to sleep outside before. When there are empty beds, mats, or, cots in a shelter it is because there are still people camping, not because we have solved the problem of homelessness.

Renaldo
Renaldo

Six days and no comments on the front page story? Is it a sign of how relevant and important the story is, or how irrelevant Westword has become? Both? I mean, it seems any semi-sentient being who simply reads the headline would immediately ask, "Is it really worse for homeless women than men, or is Westword once again fabricating an issue (sexual bias) where there is none?"

So you might think that somewhere in the first paragraph, or at least the first dozen paragraphs, there would be an explanation of the problem this article supposedly addresses, you know, the bias against homeless women. And, when you get to the very end of the introductory section, somewhere around paragraph 12, you will read "But homeless women say that the city hasn't done enough. Even with the lotteries, they charge, the odds are stacked against them. While beds assigned to men occasionally go empty, homeless women say that sometimes, sleeping on the streets seems like the only realistic option."

So "homeless women say" the odds are stacked against them, huh? Guess that's enough evidence to write a huge multi-page cover story, 'cause some unidentified homeless women said so...I tried to read the rest of the article, and while the author alluded to numbers here and there, it would appear the article and its title are intentionally misleading. Because, when you finally get to page 4, you can read how "While men's shelters have had vacancies — in the past, sometimes as many as fifty beds or mats went unused on a given night — women's shelters are almost always packed. In fact, since the camping ban went into effect, shelters for both men and women usually reach capacity." 

So let's get this straight; the men's and women's shelters have been full since "the camping ban" went into effect...last April? In other words, from the start of this winter both the men's and woman's shelters have been full to capacity, despite the story starting off with the claim that bed's in men's shelters go unused? OK, well there's still a problem with women being underrepresented, right? Which is why on page 5 you can read "In the 2007 survey, there were 787 homeless women counted in Denver — which accounted for just 28.7 percent of the homeless population. The latest count determined that more than 1,000 women were homeless in Denver."

I'm guessing that the number of men who are homeless has also increased significantly since the bottom fell out of the economy and that's why the author doesn't want to mention whether, as a percentage of the total homeless population, the number of women actually went up or down (yeah, who wants to mess with actual facts and present the full story when you're fabricating an issue). Nonetheless, if (unlike the author) you are capable of adding two and two you will see that for every homeless woman in Denver there are roughly two homeless men. And, as quoted in the paragraph above, both the men's and woman's shelters are full to capacity. So the article basically argues that, never mind there are two men on the street for every woman, homeless women are being discriminated against...or something like, well, there are these things at the convention center and there are so many homeless people and so many services and it's all so confusing, and women are coming here from out of state, and women have special issues vs. men...and if we throw all these half-truths and misinformation and "stuff" (including some partial numbers) together it's a cover story, right?

But I guess that's just what happens when you don't want to rock that stinky Denver boat, lest someone lose their invite to Hick's xmas parties - you make up stuff about discrimination against homeless women that really doesn't exist, as opposed to writing about our hypocritical self-serving politicians, slimy "business leaders", the criminal cops, the failing schools, the amazingly dysfunctional University, the increasing street crime, etc., etc. Yep, please write some more unintelligible articles about the demise of RockBar, now THAT'S important....

Merry Christmas, and thanks again for doing such a great job...

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator topcommentereditor

@Renaldo thanks for the message -- and yes, it's the first one posted after this story. Our news stories often do not get comments -- unlike anything on pit bulls or pot -- so we appreciate this. In fact, we'd like to publish it in our print edition, ideally with your full name. Please contact me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com.

 
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