Although Denver's proposed urban camping ordinance is not scheduled for final consideration until May 7, the sides for and against it are already preparing for battle. Last week, the ACLU of Colorado organized an online petition against the ban, with Occupy Denver taking a stance this weekend. In a letter addressed to the mayor, occupiers urge Hancock to seek an alternative to a solution they identify as "the criminilization of our homeless."
Although Occupy Denver representatives spoke at last Tuesday's meeting of the city Council's Land Use, Transportation & Infrastructure committee, the group had yet to establish an official stance on the ban through consensus. Twice in the past two weeks, occupiers have joined other community groups such as the Colorado Coalition For the Homeless in meeting privately with City Councilman Albus Brooks, the chief supporter of the ban, to discuss its implications. On Saturday, approximately fifty supporters of Occupy Denver met at its general assembly to vote on the letter to Hancock (below).
The call to action, which passed unanimously, takes into consideration the group's discussions with Brooks, the Colorado Coalition For the Homeless and its own homeless population, known as the Row. It comes in response to a letter from Hancock to Denver residents (also on view below) in which he asks the public to support the ordinance. "Having been homeless as a child, I will always take a thoughtful and compassionate approach to this issue," Hancock writes. "While the proposed ordinance would prohibit camping on public and private property without specific permission, I am also insisting on safeguards to protect people from unfair or unjust treatment."
Among these safeguards are the inclusion of outreach workers who would act in conjunction with law enforcement to analyze the mental and physical health of those affected by the ordinance. Outlined in greater detail in the Denver Road Home's response plan, the first draft for the ban's enforcement calls on a plan known as CAM: Contact, Assess and Mobilize.
But Occupy Denver focuses instead on the city's lack of readily available funds to provide alternate shelter options for the homeless community. In drafting its response, the group also drew inspiration from the ACLU's petition against the ban, which blunty states, "Criminalizing homeless is inhumane and unconstitutional. The Mile High City can do better than this.... This is plain wrong."
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"The Colorado Coalition For the Homeless is essentially leading the campaign against the ban, so we wanted to find a way to fit in and help," says Ben Meyer, who aided in the construction of Occupy Denver's letter. "And because the Occupy movement is a protest about economic injustice, we have to step out to support something that directly affects people with the least amount of money."
In December, a small group of Occupy Denver supporters interrupted the coalition's annual vigil for the homeless, and the action earned the movement significant negative feedback. (Even Hancock addressed the incident, citing it as a reason the movement has lost relevance with the public.) Meyer acknowledges that the decision detracted from the group's public perception as supportive of the homeless, but he says this letter and the group's future plans are signs that Occupy Denver doesn't oppose the community.
"There's been a lot of criticism regarding the Occupy movement's individual affect on the homeless, and people see Occupy's actions at the vigil as a negative response regardless of how it was intended," Meyer says. "This is a pretty important effort for us to make a clear statement on that community. It's our community, too."
In a separate letter, John Parvensky, the president of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, wrote a guest column for the Denver Post about the topic last week. In it, he refers to the ordinance as counterproductive, citing the negative impacts of outlawing street habitation without instituting replacement options.
"It would force those without shelter further into our neighborhoods and further out of sight," Parvensky writes. "This would make outreach and engagement even more difficult. It would also negatively impact the quality of life in our neighborhoods as people without shelter would be hiding in alleys, dumpsters and cars throughout the city."
Here's Mayor Hancock's letter: Mayor Unauthorized Camping Letter
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And here's the Occupy Denver response: Occupy Denver Letter to Hancock
More from our Politics archive: "Urban camping ban heats up packed city council committee meeting."