Occupy Sniagrab: Protesters use annual sale to defy urban camping ban

After months without a place to legally camp outside following passage of the city's controversial urban camping ban, Occupy Denver members have finally found a place to bed down where the police can't really bother them: outside Sports Authority.

With the company snagging a special permit for its big Sniagrab Labor Day sale, the city has allowed tents again for the annual shopping tradition -- and Occupy Denver is taking advantage.

Members of Occupy Denver gathered at the store around 6 p.m. last night to both celebrate the opportunity to legally camp outside and also criticize the city for hypocritically allowing shoppers to camp but banning Denver's homeless, who they feel are without other options.

"There are people who have no place to sleep, that can't afford to live inside, but they are forbidden to even cover themselves with a sheet," says Don Heldenbrand, a member of Occupy since October, and one of the first to arrive at the store on Broadway last night. "People who have real needs -- nobody wants to hear about them. We just want to shove them out of the way."

Heldenbrand, 53, says he was not surprised when he found out that, despite Occupy Denver's long battle with the City Council to stop the camping ban, the city still decided to let Sniagrab continue this year.

"I'm too familiar with the hypocrisy of government," he says. "The city outlaws camping outside. They destroyed our tents...but these people will be allowed to do whatever they want."

The Occupy Denver members making signs last night emphasized that they were not there to protest the eager shoppers or even Sports Authority -- and are glad to see camping permitted again, even if just for a few days.

"I'm glad these people get to camp out and get bargains -- that's great," says Terese Howard, 26, who has been with Occupy since the beginning. "But this is privileging corporate interests over people.... A corporation is being given the privilege of camping but the homeless, who have no home, are not."

At the start of the protest last night, some of the Occupy members debated whether they wanted to label their efforts Ssensselemoh or Sselemoh -- "homeless" or "homelessness" spelled backward -- as a nod to Sniagrab, a word that reorders the letters in "bargains."

The camping ban has long been a big issue for Occupy Denver and one that clearly symbolizes the movement's protests about wealth and corporations that has been central to Occupy Wall Street across the country.

In Denver, city officials have argued that the camping ban would help small neighborhood businesses, and also would encourage homeless individuals to seek services off the street or reconnect with friends or family. The latter was cited by Mayor Michael Hancock, who conceded that the ban was in part a response to Occupy Denver

Continue reading for more from Occupy Denver and for more photos. Even though this latest permit was doled out to Sports Authority for the shoppers, Occupy Denver decided to take full advantage. About twelve of them were hanging out with signs by around 8 p.m. last night, and representatives this morning told us that around twenty folks arrived in total. Jakeob Olson, a 22-year-old Occupy Denver member who is homeless, was still there this morning and said that about fifteen fellow activists stayed overnight, including a handful of homeless individuals that slept on cardboard, not in tents. "It gives us a sense of relief. We are not gonna get messed with by the cops," he says.

Pointing to Sports Authority, he says, "These lovely people went and got a permit for us," adding, "I still don't like them. They are still a corporation."

Janet Matzen, another Occupy Denver resident who set up her tent last night, says she is excited to be able to camp, but also wants to draw attention to the city's treatment of homeless residents.

"It is so wrong, I just can't even believe it," she says of the camping ban. "We wouldn't even treat dogs like this."

The sale, and thus the camping, goes until Saturday, and several members of Occupy say they hope to increase their numbers quite a bit over the next few days.

"We are setting up camp and letting the city know the homeless are not going away," says Robert Hudson, 25.

J.T. Colfax, another Occupy member, said it felt like a reunion last night. "There were people I hadn't seen in months."

And he hopes to see more.

"This is an occupation again, or it will be soon," says Colfax, 48. " It's gonna get interesting over the next few days.... It's really gonna grow."

Continue for more photos from Occupy Denver and Sniagrab. Continue for more photos from Occupy Denver and Sniagrab.

More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Photos: Occupy Denver's Anaheim solidarity march leads to four arrests"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at [email protected].

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Sam Levin
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