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"The 16th Street Mall was, if you were staying outside, a somewhat safe place, because there were so many people," says Biekarck. "Now that's not an option, because we'd be setting people up to get in trouble."

"This is a huge amount of fear and stress on people who are already so fearful," says the Delores Project's Curtis. "It was astonishing to me that my city would move forward with this criminalization strategy." And it was especially shocking, she adds, since there's evidence that these kinds of policies don't work.

In April, just a month before Denver City Council passed the ordinance, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness released a report on alternatives to criminalization, noting that local measures criminalizing "acts of living" — such as sleeping on the street — are generally unsuccessful and not a good use of resources.

But Milliner says Denver's ban is not criminalization. He thinks it "stated a value, and that value was that it's not humane for us to just sit idly by and watch people be outside," he says. "The intent of it is to move people to services."

Denver mayor Michael Hancock says the ordinance has already encouraged some people to go home and find family members or friends who can help them.

But organizations that work with homeless women argue that the places to which they're returning can be more dangerous than the streets."Home is sometimes the problem," says Leslie Foster, CEO of the Gathering Place. "Home is where I was getting abused. Home is where I was getting battered.... A lot of times we're very happy to hear our women are not going home."

Hancock says the city recognized that there was a bed shortage when officials promoted and then passed the ordinance, but that the ban was designed to encourage different parts of the community, not just the public sector, to work toward comprehensive solutions. So when volunteers step up through programs like WHI, the city is grateful.

"This is not just the government's responsibility to respond," Hancock adds. "This is someone's sister, this is someone's mom, someone's daughter, someone's grandchild who is on the street. This whole community must respond to this issue."

********

Julie Hale used to work five jobs at once. She would send most of her earnings back to Oregon, where her three children live. She was homeless from 1995 to 2007, until she finally stashed away enough in savings to pay for permanent housing. But last year she lost that spot, and now, due to physical problems, she can't find work — not that she would have much time for a job search anyway, she says, since she uses a lot of her energy figuring out where she is going to sleep at night.

Back on the streets in September 2011, she spent her first nights riding buses and the light rail. Eventually she found the WHI, which has made a huge difference, she says. But it's not a reliable safety net. And when she does end up on the street, the next day is even harder.

"Without the sleep that you need, you're running on just thin air. Your mind is so closed in, and everything seems to be going around in circles," she explains. "So how can you function?"

And on this cold Saturday morning, it's just too much when she discovers she didn't get one of the twelve coveted spots. As she cries in one woman's arms, others seated on the benches inside the St. Francis Center turn away. Some shout, some also weep. One woman gets into an argument with a homeless man about the lack of services for women — while he yells back that it's just as hard for men on the street.

Fifty-five-year-old Carol Davis has battled homelessness for decades. She didn't make the cut, either, but she has slept outside before and insists she can do it again. "I'm not gonna panic. God has kept me safe," she says, as she begins to tear up. "I'm a tough lady, but I'm only crying here because the others are crying. I do get emotional when I see the other girls who don't get in."

Even if she didn't get a bed, Hale says, she's grateful for the friends she's met through the WHI churches. "Even though we are homeless," she says, "we can still make it the best thing ever."

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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 editortopcommenter

@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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