Before last night's epic Denver City Council meeting started, and well before its members voted nine to four to preliminarily approve the proposed urban camping ordinance, the line for public attendance stretched far outside the City and County Building. Many of these people left during the following seven hours of a meeting scheduled to last two, meaning that those numbers slimmed down noticeably by the council's final decision, reached a little after 1:30 a.m.
With hundreds of people in council chambers and many more stationed in an overflow room, last night's meeting was one for the books.
This first and only public hearing on the issue is the latest in a series of city council meetings that have prompted the opening of overflow rooms. The line to attend the 5:30 meeting started building at least half an hour early, and all entrances to the City and County Building were closed except for one as security guards monitored the crowd.
Before the meeting moved to discussion of the ban, the council officially recognized Civic Center Park, one of the areas that would be directly and immediately impacted by it, as a historic site and a source of city pride. Spots like the park and other community areas are hindered by the ban, according to supporters such as councilman Charlie Brown, with many tourists and residents afraid to visit them.
Once the ban moved front and center, approximately a hundred people addressed the topic, some staying within their three-minute limit and many exceeding it during a night of impassioned input that inspired repeat visits to council chambers by police officers on the scene.
At times the discussion verged on the dramatic, with members of the public shouting over speakers. Council president Chris Nevitt threatened more than once to empty the room as tempers escalated. Before the meeting even began, attendees fought over the ban's merits outside the building. Most of Denver's homeless care providers maintained a presence at the meeting, as they have continued to do throughout the month of debate over the issue.
Three amendments moved through discussion before all were eventually shut down, and well-known figures such as state senators Irene Aguilar, Pat Steadman and Lucia Guzman joined state representatives Angela Williams and Joe Miklosi to voice their opposition. In the end, however, only councilmembers Susan Shepherd, Robin Kniech, Debbie Ortega and Paul Lopez, all of whom have raised concerns at previous committee meetings, voted against the ban, while their remaining colleagues (including sponsoring councilman Albus Brooks) supported it.
Final consideration of the measure will take place at the council's May 14 meeting. If it's approved, as expected, Mayor Michael Hancock will sign it the following day, with the ban scheduled for implementation on May 29.
That should please numerous lawyers and city representatives, who cited the toll homelessness takes on city property and business.
In opposition, attendees wearing ever-present orange "Homes Not Handcuffs" buttons claimed the ban was being pressed without input from providers and makes an already complicated issue that much more difficult. They worry that as a result of the ban, Denver's homeless will move further away from the mainstream community, making them harder to find and assist. For the first time, members of Denver's homeless community spoke about their own perspectives -- a gap Shepherd mentioned at the most recent committee meeting.
Last night's discussion also touched on the ordinance's implications for Occupy Denver, many of whose members attended. Family of Love supporter Ben Meyer addressed the ban's potential stigma while criticizing its lasting effect on the city's homeless community. During his speech and others, members of the crowd emulated the Occupy Wall Street general assembly procedure of approval, raising their hands in the air and shaking their fingertips.
Tonight, Occupy Denver will stage a sleep-in on the 16th Street Mall to show solidarity against the ban.
Councilman Lopez summed up the consistent split in opinions. "I see a conflict between the powerful in this city and the powerless," Lopez told the gathering.
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More from our Follow That Story archive: "Urban camping ban heats up packed city council committee meeting."
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