When Snooze co-owner Brianna Borin spoke out in support of the urban camping ban at a city council hearing two weeks ago, Occupy Denver members took offense and launched a morning-long rally against the restaurant spot -- which employed four homeless individuals inside at that very moment. Days later, co-owner Jon Schlegel was still confused about why his business would be targeted -- and why the owners would be branded as Nazis despite one being Jewish.
Schlegel, who flew to Chicago after the protest, was out of town for much of the reaction. Still, he echoed Borin's comments in front of city council, when she said Snooze's quality of service is restricted by the time and money it dedicates to responding to the neighborhood's homeless population. "As I'm talking to you sitting in my office, I'm watching what looks like a drug deal go down," he told Westword. "I just saw a prostitute get picked up as I'm talking to you. I'm sitting here looking at them right now, and these people have got to get help."
Over the past month, discussions of the ordinance, which would make it illegal for anyone to camp on Denver property without permission, have become drastically segmented. It often seems like the entire debate pits businesses versus the homeless. When Schlegel saw the protest organized outside his windows last Saturday, he took it as a sign that the same polarization was continuing.
"It's tough to see your name out there on signs that say 'Snooze is criminalizing the homeless' when there are four homeless people working in the restaurant at that exact moment," he says. "Having been here for six years, we consider ourselves homeless experts of a sort. We sit on the [Denver Homeless] Commission, the board for the Ballpark neighborhood and the board for the ]Downtown Denver] Partnership."
Early in the morning, the first people to attend asked for the free pancake breakfast they heard Snooze was offering, but the story was a rumor spread to someone outside the business, Schlegel says. While roughly fifty protesters picketed against the business for four hours, several members of the political community showed up in support, including partnership president Tami Door, City Councilman Albus Brooks, and Roxanne White, Governor John Hickenlooper's chief of staff.
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And when the physical protest was over, it continued on social media. "The Facebook battle got a little worse than it should be," Schlegel says. From there, it progressed to personal e-mail, where "we had people sending and uploading pictures of swastikas and Nazis, and [co-owner] Bri is Jewish. I handed it to a lawyer and said this must be slanderously offensive, and the lawyer said to just weather it and be protective of anything that was slanderous or vicious."
Instead of pursuing legal intervention, Schlegel hopes future conversation about the issue will open the minds of people on all sides -- or maybe just avoid sides altogether. During the protest, he says he poured coffee for the protesters. "I just serve breakfast for a living," he says. "I think there's a true cause, and we all want to help homelessness, whether we're for the ban or against it. This vicious conversation is making it difficult to solve anything at all. We're missing the idea of collaboration."
Denver City Council will deliver its final vote on the urban camping ordinance at today's 5:30 p.m. meeting.
More from our Politics archive: "Photos: Occupy Denver protests Snooze, plans Downtown Denver Partnership sleep-in."