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

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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.
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Sam Levin
Contact: Sam Levin