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Sniagrab camping should not be compared to homelessness, says Mayor Michael Hancock

Big photos below.
Big photos below.

Denver allows camping for shoppers but not for homeless people with nowhere to go. At least that was last week's message from Occupy Denver during protests about allowing Sports Authority shoppers to camp out for bargains months after the city began enforcing its urban camping ban, which prohibits the homeless from sleeping outside.

The response from Mayor Michael Hancock? His spokeswoman says this specific permit shouldn't be compared to the city's overall homelessness-related policies.

For a handful of Occupy Denver members, last week's annual Sniagrab event, which find Sports Authority offering Labor Day bargains to shoppers who Sline up and camp out days in advance -- was the first time since the camping ban went into effect that they were able to legally sleep outside. Some Occupy members even encouraged some of the city's homeless residents to sleep outside the Broadway and 10th Avenue store.

Occupy Denver at Sniagrab last week.
Occupy Denver at Sniagrab last week.
Sam Levin

At the protest, Occupy Denver representatives said the decision to permit Sniagrab campers clearly exemplified their ongoing battle to fight the city's hypocritical support of corporations over people -- and, in this case, shoppers over the homeless.

After we wrote about their protests, we reached out to the mayor's office, asking if Mayor Hancock had a response to Occupy's criticisms. Here's the full statement sent to us by Amber Miller, press secretary for Hancock:

Sports Authority applied for and received a street occupancy permit for a special event in a designated area for a specified amount of time. The permit imposes legally binding conditions on the applicant that require them to insure the event and work to protect the health and safety of the participants. Sports Authority has agreed to monitor noise, sanitation, safety and access in the permitted area; they have provided dumpsters, port-o-lets and on-site, round-the-clock security.

Permitted events like this one were accounted for within the ordinance and are in no way comparable to allowing our most vulnerable to sleep out in the elements exposed to unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

Public Works reviews all street occupancy applications thoroughly, focusing on safety and accessibility. Every application is reviewed based on its own unique circumstances.

The camping ban, according to Hancock, is an important public health measure that he argues will ultimately reduce homelessness, in part by encouraging those without a home to take advantage of the city's resources and seek help off of the street. Critics of the ban argue that the city doesn't actually have enough resources to support its homeless population. In their view, the ordinance does nothing more than criminalize those most in need and force them to hide out in unsafe places.

Continue reading for one Occupy Denver member's response to the mayor's statement.

 

As Miller's statement suggests, Hancock believes the camping ban remains an important tool to help the city's most vulnerable.

Jakeob Olson, Occupy Denver member who spent the night at Sniagrab last week.
Jakeob Olson, Occupy Denver member who spent the night at Sniagrab last week.
Sam Levin

Not surprisingly, Occupy Denver isn't too convinced by this response.

This morning, we reached Robert Hudson, one of the first Occupy protestors out last week, to get his take on Miller's statement.

He says it's not surprising that the city allows camping when a company is paying for a permit but not for the homeless who have no choice but to sleep outside and can't afford to negotiate with the city.

"They shouldn't be making a profit when people don't have a choice," says Hudson, 25, who has been with Occupy Denver since October.

"The City and County of Denver is profiting from this event," he says of Sniagrab, adding, of homeless individuals sleeping outside, "It doesn't cost them anything." (Earlier in the summer, Hancock said: "Occupy Denver cost Denver a lot of money.")

A spokeswoman from the city's Public Works department tells us today that Sports Authority applied for a "Right of Way Occupancy" permit, which includes a camping provision. The company had to pay $482.75, including a $50 application fee, to obtain this permit, which allowed camping, given certain conditions, such as keeping the site safe and sanitary.

Occupy Denver opposed the camping ban, and Hudson says members tried to negotiate with the city to come up with a way that homeless people would be allowed to sleep outside.

"No matter what we asked for, we are gonna get denied," he says.

More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Corey Donahue found guilty of unlawful sexual contact in TV journalist "nut tap""

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.


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