A free event called "Move Along to Where?" is being held at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 15, at the Exdo Event Center, 1399 35th Street, to discuss issues pertaining to homelessness in Denver, including innovative housing solutions.
The event comes as the City of Denver faces increased scrutiny for police actions taken against its homeless population. Over the past year, those have included large sweep operations on March 8 and July 13, escalated enforcement of the urban-camping ban; the city has had to defend its actions in federal court against a class action lawsuit filed by attorney Jason Flores-Williams (whom Westword profiled in our most recent cover story, "Ready for Action".)
While the city has provided additional resources to help the homeless during 2016 — including a program to hire the homeless as day workers and approving the construction of 250 apartment units to house chronically homeless individuals — opposition to the city’s police actions has escalated. This past weekend, that became clear after a video showing Denver police officers confiscating blankets from a homeless man went viral. On Saturday, December 10, Mayor Michael Hancock issued a statement saying that police will no longer seize blankets or other survival gear when enforcing the city’s anti-camping ordinance through April 2017.
Still, many are calling for alternative solutions.
That will be the focus of a public dialogue at "Move Along to Where?," which will bring together homelessness experts, members of the homeless community and city officials to discuss the issue.
To find out more about featured panelists and what else is in store for the event (which Westword is sponsoring as a media partner), we interviewed the event’s two moderators, professors Stephen Polk of Naropa University and Antwan Jefferson of the University of Colorado Denver.
Westword: Tell us about this event being held on Thursday. What's the goal, and what can people expect?
Polk: Overall, the goal is to find some solutions to the housing crisis that is currently impacting a huge portion of Denver's population, particularly those experiencing homelessness. As I see it, the problem is that there aren't enough shelters, or there are legitimate reasons why people can't go in the shelters. Conversely, people can't be on the streets. So that begs the question: What is to be done? Hopefully with this panel, we can come together to find a solution. It's a unique opportunity to get involved at any level.
Jefferson: The purpose is to facilitate dialogue on opposite sides of what's a really volatile issue for people. My hope is that this conversation will lead to additional conversations.
Who are some of the panelists you'd like to highlight?
Polk: I think, first and foremost, [Denver City Council President] Albus Brooks.... Some people are hopeful that this conversation will be the beginning of a much longer conversation [with Brooks] about solutions for people who are literally dying on the streets.
Brooks is known for sponsoring the urban-camping ban. The last time he talked about it in a public setting, at Brother Jeff's Cultural Center, things became rather heated. As moderators, is that something on your mind, and do you have any strategies you've planned if Thursday's event turns into a pile-on on Brooks?
Polk: As moderators, it will be our job to set the tone. Of course we can't control who's going to say what, but we'll set three broad principles: respect, mutual understanding and shared responsibility in finding solutions.
Hopefully that will serve as a buffer against anyone there to pick bones with Albus.
Jefferson: We'll be doing as much requesting people to stay on topic as possible. We'll also invite people to reconsider any interest in shutting down the conversation for their own interests, because that has not been effective in the past.
People are involved in this because they really care and want to see something done. That needs to be honored and acknowledged.
Another panelist, Ibrahim Mubarak, is coming from Portland, Oregon, to talk about his work there. Can you tell us more about him and what questions you have for him?
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Polk: Mubarak has established self-organized encampments in the City of Portland. Research shows that this keeps people off the streets, it keeps them safer, but also gives them a sense of responsibility. Mubarek has been on the front line of the project, so it will be interesting to hear how that process came about.
How will community members be invited to participate on Thursday?
Jefferson: We'll take their questions while doing our best to give [them] space and voice.
To find out more about "Move Along to Where?," visit its Facebook event page.