Urban camping ban: Albus Brooks calls it an emergency

The urban camping ban, currently scheduled for a May 7 city council vote, is moving too quickly for Denver neighborhood leaders. On Saturday, the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation urged the council to push its decision back until past May 12, when the group will discuss it internally. But councilman Albus Brooks, chief proponent of the ban, called the city's homeless population an "emergency" that should be faced immediately.

Facilitated by Starbucks coffee and donut holes, the meeting was scheduled to last roughly an hour before discussion of the camping ban added another 45 minutes to its total. Although the INC's members, like much of the city, are split in their views about the potential ordinance, they came together by a majority to call for additional time for reflection. The plan is to discuss the ban at their May 12 delegate meeting, which is currently scheduled five days after city council's final consideration.

But Brooks, for whom the INC meeting was his first, said the city cannot afford to wait. He says he has heard complaints about overnight camping since he took office. "People fear for their sanity, their safety, and the streets are not clean," Brooks maintained. "For us to delay, you'd be saying, 'Let's push this burden on you guys downtown while we wait to think.' This is an emergency situation. When you have 600 people sleeping outside, I'd hope as a city we'd consider that an emergency."

Before working with city attorneys and Denver's Road Home on some of the proposal's finer points, Brooks visited the 16th Street Mall at midnight, where he and his wife counted 178 people they identified as homeless. On another occasion, Brooks said he discovered a homeless man sleeping inside their garage, and instead of calling the police, he worked to connect the man with services in the area.

But examples like these suggest the issue of homelessness is an established problem, INC Vice President Cindy Johnstone told Albus, not a new emergency.

"This is not an emergency if it's been occurring for years, and it's unfair to say we're dumping this on downtown," said Johnstone, who also stressed the need for time to judge the ban's impact on the INC's communities. She traced the origin of the proposal back to its first appearance in draft form roughly two weeks ago and asked why the city could not have more time to consider its implications.

"So before that, you had nothing solid to bring to the public?" she asked. "Please be thoughtful and responsible and give us more than two and a half weeks. The INC's mission is to inform its delegates, and I don't think the city council is doing that."

Among its many committees, the INC hosts a two-person homelessness task force. One member, Randle Loeb, has previously been homeless, and he spoke before city council at its first committee meeting on the topic earlier this month on behalf of Occupy Denver. Loeb is also a member of the Commission on Homeless, a city-wide advisory group he says has not discussed the issue -- or even met since November. On Saturday, Loeb received a round of applause for his opposition to the ban; he focused on the viability of assisting the young, disabled or indigenous.

"Boulder and other cities have not put enough work into the balance, but we will," Brooks assured the room. Among the plans to enforce the ban is the creation of the city's first 24-hour resource center devoted to the homeless population. "This is not a plan to attack our homeless community, but the homeless will be affected by this."

The goal is also not to target Occupy Denver, though "I do know the Golden Triangle and its communities are very upset about that," Brooks said. While explaining the ordinance to the INC gathering, he mentioned that thousands of cities have imposed similar ordinances (according to the Colorado Coalition For the Homeless, the number is 44), and while Denver does not have enough beds to shelter each displaced person, it shouldn't have to. "The government cannot provide life for each and every individual. The government provides opportunities."

Read the INC's statement in full:

"Whereas, The Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation (INC) believes that the City Council ordinance proposing to ban unauthorized camping has significant implications to the citizens and neighborhoods of Denver, and

Whereas, the impacts and ramifications of the ordinance on individuals and neighborhoods has not been fully explored by Denver citizens, and

Whereas, alternatives whereby individuals directly affected by the ordinance have not been developed or are not known to Denver citizens,

Now therefore, be it resolved that INC respectfully asks Denver City Council to postpone a vote on the ordinance banning unauthorized camping on property in the City and County of Denver until such time as adequate, additional public meetings have been held to inform and educate Denver citizens including homeless people, as to the details of the ordinance being established. INC specifically proposes to hold a thorough forum on the subject at the May 12th delegate meeting, wherein all parties, including homeless people be invited, a balanced presentation will be made before all Registered Neighborhood Organizations present and where delegates will have the chance to learn and ask meaningful questions."

More from our Politics archives: "Urban camping ban heats up packed city council committee meeting."

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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple