In January, 710 KNUS talk-show host Peter Boyles went more than a thousand extra miles in his effort to defeat proposed safe use site legislation in Colorado, joining fellow KNUS personality Steffan Tubbs on a trip to Vancouver, where such facilities already exist, in order to highlight what he saw as a potential disaster for Denver. His efforts were widely cited the next month, when Senator Brittany Pettersen, who had planned to sponsor the bill, revealed that she would not introduce such a measure amid crumbling support.
Now, Boyles is trying to repeat this feat in regard to I-300, the Right to Survive initiative, which, if approved by voters in the May 7 election, would fortify protections for the homeless in Denver and lay the groundwork for overturning the city's controversial urban camping ban.
Along with Tubbs and KNUS digital development director Mark Crowley, Boyles spent much of Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 4 through 6, in Seattle, which approved a 2016 homelessness ordinance that he likens to I-300. The results, in his view, have been catastrophic for the city and would have an equally negative impact here.
"It's a horror show," he said from Seattle at around the midpoint of his journey, "and it's what's going to happen in Denver. These camps are going to be everywhere. In Civic Center Park. Along the canals. Anywhere between the sidewalks and the street. Everywhere."
Boyles called the mission "a cookie cutter of Vancouver. Everybody talks about what's happening up here, and how Initiative 300 is modeled on what happened three years ago in Seattle, but nobody in the Denver media that I know of has come up here to actually see what it's like here. And it's pretty awful."
One example he offers corresponds to the photo at the top of this post: "They built this whole camp in kind of a highway cloverleaf, and there was a guy out there in a Barcalounger. I watched him sit down, shoot dope, kick back, and then he was out cold at two o'clock in the afternoon."
As Chris Walker revealed in "Right or Wrong," his recent Westword cover story, I-300 proponents and opponents disagree about what the measure will and won't do based on the language that will appear on Denver ballots next month: "Shall the voters of the City and County of Denver adopt a measure that secures and enforces basic rights for all people within the jurisdiction of the City and County of Denver, including the right to rest and shelter oneself from the elements in a non-obstructive manner in outdoor public spaces, to eat, share accept or give free food in any public space where food is not prohibited, to occupy one’s own legally parked motor vehicle, or occupy a legally parked motor vehicle belonging to another, with the owner’s permission, and to have a right and expectation of privacy and safety of or in one’s person and property?"
For instance, Together Denver, the organization leading the campaign against I-300, maintains that the initiative would eliminate all curfews at parks that currently close between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Tristia Bauman, a senior attorney at the Washington, D.C.-based National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, who helped draft the unsuccessful 2018 Right to Rest Act that strongly resembles the initiative, disputes this claim, arguing that I-300 only allows "non-obstructive resting in public space that is 'accessible to the public,'" and since the parks are closed overnight, they wouldn't qualify. But Melissa Drazen-Smith, a city attorney on the team that assessed this question isn't so sure, telling Walker that the interpretation might ultimately be determined in the courts.
Such uncertainty leaves the door open for Boyles to present Seattle as Denver's worst-case scenario — and the city's KOMO-TV has done much of the work for him. In recent weeks, the station broadcast the dramatically titled hour-long documentary Seattle Is Dying, which is filled with powerful images of the growing homelessness issue in the community. See it here:
The KNUS crew captured plenty of similar images, too, as seen in a gallery of shots accessible on the outlet's website. And Boyles's rhetoric is just as vivid.
"One of the camps is called the Jungle," he recounted. "It's huge. But things are different between Vancouver and Seattle. Vancouver pretty much has all of this on about eight city blocks, but in Seattle, it's anywhere and everywhere. A lot of them are along the freeways. It starts about ten miles outside of the city, but in the city, they're really concentrated."
In addition, Boyles continued, "we went into areas where there were all these old ’70s and '80s Winnebagos. They cover up the windshields with tarps and park them nose-to-nose, bumper-to-bumper, to create these camps, and they don't want other people to go in there. We went into one of the camps and this woman came out with a pit bull. And that's the way it is. The cops don't go in there. I haven't seen much police involvement at all."
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Moreover, Boyles contended, the camps have become a magnet for homeless people from outside the city eager to take advantage of the city's plentiful public services. The term used by locals is "Freeattle," and even though officials armed with statistics aplenty have characterized this notion as a myth, David Carson, a city council member from the nearby community of Redmond, begs to differ. Carson, who spent time with Boyles and the KNUS crew, told Westword that "about 10 percent of the people in the camps in Redmond are locals. Some are from other local communities, but about half are from outside the area." He also estimated that "less than half of the people in the Seattle camps are from Seattle. The others are people who come here."
These folks share a lot in common, Boyles maintained. "It's almost all eighteen-to-thirty-year-old white men. There are some white women, too, but I really haven't seen any minority people — and we're not talking about addicted housewives. It's almost all white males, and a lot of them are addicts. There are needles all over the place."
Stories like these will be told early and often on Boyles's program in the run-up to the election. While he'll deal with a wide variety of topics on his show, he predicts that one of his main themes will be why the Right to Survive initiative is a terrible idea — and he's eager to debate anyone who thinks he's wrong.
"I welcome any advocates of 300 to call the show and be on," he stressed. "I'd love to hear from you, so it's not a one-way street. If you think it's good for Denver, tell us about it. But I say, 'If you hate the city of Denver, vote for 300.'"