Last night, despite a protest rally by homeless advocates, the Denver City Council approved a $1.8 million security plan that will add ten new police officers to patrol the Ballpark neighborhood, LoDo and the 16th Street Mall.
The group Denver Homeless Out Loud opposed the proposal under the theory that it's a step toward criminalizing homelessness. But even though the measure passed, one demonstrator is glad officials have been put on notice and wants them to know the added patrol roll-out will be watched closely.
Earlier this morning, we reached Ray Lyall, who is both a spokesman for Denver Homeless Out Loud and a member of the homeless community himself; right now, he's spending his nights under a bridge at an undisclosed metro-area location.
"I'm downtown on the mall right now," he told us, "and I'm going to introduce myself to all the police I find and say, 'I want to work together with you guys -- but I'm going to keep my eye on you.'"
The rally yesterday moved from Skyline Park, on the 16th Street Mall, to the City and County Building, and Lyall admits that "when it started, it was kind of depressing. There only looked like there were about fifteen of us. But by the time we got to Welton, there were probably a good 40-45 people."
After the group staged an event outside, folks headed into the meeting knowing there wouldn't be an opportunity for anyone to speak about the proposal. But they hoped their mere presence would have an effect, and that's the way things worked out, Lyall believes.
"Usually when they're passing bills, it's like being an an auction," he noted. "They just go 'Aye.' 'Aye.' 'Aye.' 'Aye.' But when they got to this one, they stopped and had a major discussion -- and four of the city council people definitely had issues with it."
This represents a change from Lyall's perspective. He's closely followed the security plan's progress through the city council and attended an earlier committee meeting at which, he says, "it was 'homeless this' and 'homeless that' and 'peeing in public' and 'panhandling.' That's all they were talking about." But during last night's session, the conversation focused more on "having a police presence.
"At one point, Councilwoman [Debbie] Ortega talked about not taking direct action against homeless people and the whole room started applauding," he added. "Councilwoman [Mary Beth] Susman had to quiet us all down."
In the end, the plan passed. As described by 7News, officers will be assigned blocks between Welton and Champa streets through 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Still, Lyall sees the protest as a success. "We let them know how we feel," he said -- and by putting a face on the issue, he hopes homeless people like him can't simply be taken for granted.
Here's 7News' report about last night's meeting.
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More from our News archive circa June 16: "Homelessness being criminalized in Ballpark neighborhood? Advocacy group says yes."