Reader: Urban-camping ban would put profits before people
Councilman Albus Brooks claims that his proposal to ban unauthorized camping does not criminalize homelessness. Mayor Michael Hancock describes allowing people to sleep on the streets as "morally inhumane." However, the wording of the proposed legislation and the logic it entails belies the claim that the ban constitutes a public service rather than a form of persecution.
Westword's reporting exemplifies the contradictions of the ordinance. Kelsey Whipple's interview shows that Brooks never intended to work with outreach providers on legislation that could actually serve the needs of the homeless: "That's not going to happen." Jef Otte's reporting undermines the magnitude and the nature of the problem estimated by Brooks; Otte counted 44 unauthorized campers on the 16th Street Mall compared to Brooks's count of 178. He also challenged the idea that the homeless and their possessions obstruct and endanger public safety and retail activity: "When a few shopping bags contain all your earthly possessions, you want that shit close at hand."
Why ignore issues of ethical and practical justification? An educated guess: Supporters of the legislation want the homeless to go away. But what could motivate this attitude? Business owners believe that the presence of the homeless interferes with commerce. Middle-class Denverites feel threatened and ashamed by the presence of the homeless on the 16th Street Mall. Homelessness defies simple solutions.
These claims deserve public inspection and deliberation rather than being swept aside by legislation that looks away from the problem it aims to solve. Councilman Brooks and Mayor Hancock sincerely desire to aid the homeless, but the proposal they propose will not fulfill that desire. The real interests and motives for their concern require that this legislation be rejected.
I am shocked at how commonly the term "bum" is used in this article. It's a very derogatory term, and Westword would be better served by not perpetuating its use.
Ever try Labor Ready or even Ready Express? There are ways to get a job and build up to a regular job. When I was discharged from the service with service-connected disabilities, I was homeless for a while, living in my car in '91. I was able to get part-time work and build up from there without panhandling. Granted, I don't do illicit drugs or drink booze. But it can be done; it just takes willpower to do it.
It appears that this ordinance is a result of profits coming before people. There were compromises/amendments on the table that would have ensured that expanded services for the homeless were present before the ordinance was passed. But at every juncture, it seems that Albus Brooks was not interested in compromise because the votes were there to get it passed as is. I can't speak for Brooks's intentions, but the lack of openness and seeming arrogance that came through in Kelsey Whipple's article really has made me lose faith in the progressive, inspirational leader I thought he was. I'm most concerned about the hundreds of homeless youth who may be further at risk to being trafficked if they are forced to move into secluded places and off of the well-lit 16th Street Mall or other central locations. There are not a lot of shelter beds for youth at all. Youth should not have to sleep on the street, but they also shouldn't have to become more vulnerable to traffickers by a city ordinance.
Fascinating confessional by Jef Otte on his own bout with alcoholism and homelessness; glad to count him as a survivor, his wit is greatly appreciated. Homelessness is very real, and the issue of how to deal with it is indeed complex, as Councilman Brooks points out. Unfortunately, and I hope Brooks will read this comment, his statement that "the problem is that we have created a society that accepts handouts and doesn't take opportunities and wants to continue to get those" is parroted by many, regularly, and needs to be abandoned.
The void between the haves and have-nots here in the U.S. is substantially larger than in places like Kenya (Brooks's mangled next point) and other developing areas of the world where there is at least a sense of community from those with nothing right up through the little shopkeepers and street vendors who are managing to survive. Suburban isolation is responsible for the convenient "society that accepts handouts" lack of depth of understanding. Sure, there are people passing through substance abuse. But the idea that "young travelers" are camping out downtown shows we are so screwed up we don't have a recognized culture of hostels or an art quarter (another physical example of suburban-isolation mentality and the economic regulations it has spawned). If people could form unlicensed street bazaars, were allowed to make and sell crafts not just on organized holidays or cutesy weekends, we might begin to have this continuity of community that the Starbucks culture (nobody owns their own coffee shop anymore; how screwed up is that?) is so horribly afraid of.
With regard to Greg Reck's letter in the April 5 issue expressing his desire that recreational guns be outlawed by crooked politicians, I want to ask him who, or what, if he got his way, would protect us from these same crooked politicians? He says he's too young to remember Columbine, therefore he's too young to remember Tiananmen Square or Kent State.
J. Charest Golden
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