Mayor Michael Hancock and several Denver City Council members are talking up a potential overnight camping ban in public places, including the 16th Street Mall. Given the brouhaha over camping by Occupy Denver, which has been joined by numerous homeless protesters, is this notion a preemptive strike against a possible Occupy relocation? Hancock's spokeswoman says no.
"This doesn't have anything to do with Occupy Denver," says Amber Miller, Hancock's press secretary. "Since the mayor came into office, the increase in homelessness has been an issue he's dedicated to. And he's working toward a comprehensive solution."
That should come as good news to Alexxa Gagner, director of public relations for the Denver Rescue Mission. In her view, any discussion of a ban at the 16th Street Mall or other places that have allowed overnight camping to date can't be done without considering repercussions.
"There simply aren't enough shelter beds in the city," she says. "If something like this were to go into effect, the folks sleeping on the mall or other areas where businesses don't want them will have to find another place to sleep. That's just a reality. And our shelter is already full. We've been full for over a month. We added overflow beds early this year, so we can accommodate 300 men -- and we've been pretty consistently full on a nightly basis since then."
And that's before the first real cold snap of the season -- one currently forecast to strike Tuesday evening into Wednesday, with six inches of snow considered a realistic possibility.
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Thus far, the Denver Rescue Mission has been in contact with Hancock's office, as well as with numerous city councilpersons, "and we're absolutely open to having more conversations about this. But one thing we don't want to do is criminalize homelessness -- and a ban may have that effect."
Miller stresses that Hancock is on the same page. "The mayor has said repeatedly that we can't arrest our way out of this," she says. "That's why it can't just be a ban. It'll have to be a comprehensive plan that provides support for one of Denver's most vulnerable populations."
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