I don’t usually write about political stuff here, but the latest development in Denver has me so steaming mad I have to today. First of all, the civil unions bill was killed last night, which is gross. But what I want to talk about now is the fact that Denver pretty much made homeless people illegal.
I apologize in advance for how long this is going to be. In an effort to keep things as short as possible, here are some links where you can get more information about what’s going on, including a link to a pdf of the draft ordinance:
- Denver Post: “Protests greet final passage of Denver homeless camping ban” (includes links to related articles)
- Huffington Post: “Homeless Camping Ban: Denver City Council Passes City-Wide ‘Urban Camping’ Ban”
- Alliance for Sustainable Colorado: “New Denver City Ordinance to Simply Mask Homelessness, Not Solve It”
- Westword: “For the homeless, ‘urban camping’ is no picnic”
- pdf of the ordinance.
Here is the draft version of the ordinance:
Sec. 38-86.1. – Unauthorized camping on public or private property prohibited.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person to camp upon any private property without the express written consent of the property owner or the owner’s agent, and only in such locations where camping may be conducted in accordance with any other applicable city law.
(b) It shall be unlawful for any person to camp upon any public property except in any location where camping has been expressly allowed by the officer or agency having the control, management and supervision of the public property in question.
(c) No law enforcement officer shall issue a citation, make an arrest or otherwise enforce this section against any person unless:
(1) The officer orally requests or orders the person to refrain from the alleged violation of this section and, if the person fails to comply after receiving the oral request or order, the officer tenders a written request or order to the person warning that if the person fails to comply the person may be cited or arrested for a violation of this section; and
(2) The officer attempts to ascertain whether the person is in need of medical or human services assistance, including but not limited to mental health treatment, drug or alcohol rehabilitation, or homeless services assistance. If the officer determines that the person may be in need of medical or human services assistance, the officer shall make reasonable efforts to contact and obtain the assistance of a designated human service outreach worker, who in turn shall assess the needs of the person and, if warranted, direct the person to an appropriate provider of medical or human services assistance in lieu of the person being cited or arrested for a violation of this section. If the officer is unable to obtain the assistance of a human services outreach worker, if the human services outreach worker determines that the person is not in need of medical or human services assistance, or if the person refuses to cooperate with the direction of the human services outreach worker, the officer may proceed to cite or arrest the person for a violation of this section so long as the warnings required by paragraph (1) of this subsection have been previously given.
(d) For purposes of this section:
(1) “Camp” means to reside or dwell temporarily in a place, with shelter, and conduct activities of daily living such as eating, sleeping or the storage of personal possessions in such place. The term “shelter” includes, without limitation, any tent, tarpaulin, lean-to, sleeping bag, bedroll, blankets, or any form of cover or protection from the elements other than clothing.
(2) “Designated human service outreach worker” shall mean any person designated in writing by the manager of the Denver Department of Human Services to assist law enforcement officers as provided in subsection (c), regardless of whether the person is an employee of the department of human services.
(3) “Public property” means, by way of illustration, any street, alley, sidewalk, pedestrian or transit mall, bike path, greenway, or any other structure or area encompassed within the public right-of-way; any park, parkway, mountain park, or other recreation facility; or any other grounds, buildings, or other facilities owned or leased by the City or by any other public owner, regardless of whether such public property is vacant or occupied and actively used for any public purpose.
My main problem here is that the law, as it currently stands (with no additional resources added to the Denver community as a result of the law) does nothing to solve the problem of homelessness. It just says Denver doesn’t want to deal with homeless people other than to allow for their arrest if the police feel like it.
The law is also, if I can be blunt (and I can), a stupid law. Let’s say a police officer finds a homeless guy (we’ll call him Ralph) sleeping on the 16th Street Mall at 2:00 a.m. Here’s what the ordinance says should happen. First, the officer orally tells Ralph to stop being homeless on the 16th Street Mall. I suppose Ralph could comply in one of two ways — he could magically obtain a home on the spot, or he could leave the 16th Street Mall and go be homeless somewhere else. Option 1 is impossible and option 2 doesn’t solve the problem because Ralph is still homeless. If he fails to comply, the officer gives him something in writing telling him that if he fails to comply, he may be cited or arrested. This is great because we totally need to use more paper, and if someone didn’t magically obtain a home on the spot or go be homeless somewhere else when verbally requested to do so, I’m sure receiving the same request in written form will make all the difference.
Then the real fun begins. The officer gets to “attempt to ascertain whether the person is in need of medical or human services assistance, including but not limited to mental health treatment, drug or alcohol rehabilitation, or homeless services assistance.” Before continuing with our hypothetical, I have some questions. Why does the officer just have to attempt? Shouldn’t she have to actually ascertain? What standards does she use when attempting to ascertain whether Ralph needs medical or human services assistance? Why doesn’t the ordinance provide these standards? Will there be standards (If so, who makes them?), or does an officer just get to use her own judgment? By the way, I hope serious crimes aren’t happening while this attempt to ascertain business is going on, because this ordinance doesn’t provide extra funding to the police to help with the extra work they’re going to have.
So, let’s say the officer determines that Ralph may be in need of human services assistance. Now she “shall make reasonable efforts to contact and obtain the assistance of a designated human service outreach worker.” What are reasonable efforts? Assuming she, through reasonable efforts, contacts a designated human service outreach worker, that worker “shall assess the needs of the person and, if warranted, direct the person to an appropriate provider of medical or human services assistance in lieu of the person being cited or arrested for a violation of this section.” How, exactly, does that work? Let’s call our designated human service outreach worker Bob, because that’s fewer letters. Does Bob make this assessment based only on what the officer tells him? Does the cop say, hey, Ralph, come use my phone so you can talk to Bob so Bob can assess your needs? Does the cop take Ralph to wherever Bob works so Ralph can stand in line with all the other homeless people who have been rounded up that night? How much time does this take? If Bob determines that Ralph needs human service assistance and directs him to an appropriate provider of human service assistance, does Ralph have to go right then even though the provider probably isn’t open in the middle of the night? While waiting at the door, will Ralph be approached by police and told to stop being homeless again, or does Ralph get a free pass for the rest of that night?
Now, let’s say our officer is unable to obtain the assistance of Bob or any other human service outreach workers. (How many human service outreach workers are working in the middle of the night in Denver every day? I assume [just kidding, I don't really] there are several, because this ordinance does not provide for additional human service outreach workers.) Let’s say Bob is in the bathroom and doesn’t answer his phone, and any other human service outreach workers are busy with other homeless people. In that case, the officer is free to arrest Ralph. Yay, Ralph goes to jail. This is great because Denver is rolling in extra tax dollars and jail space. If Bob determines that Ralph is not in need of medical or human service assistance, or Ralph refuses to cooperate with what Bob tells him to do, Ralph can be arrested. This is great for the reasons listed above.
I think it’s fair to interpret this ordinance as making homeless people illegal in Denver (compliance requires one to stop being homeless or leave the city or, I suppose if you want to get technical, sleeping outside with no shelter other than the clothes you’re wearing and no possessions you couldn’t store on your body, which would be dangerous in the winter and pretty much impossible), which I think is completely disgusting. I also think it’s unfair to require homeless people to sleep in shelters. And it’s ridiculous to have this law on the books while there is not nearly enough shelter space for the homeless people of Denver and there are not nearly enough resources to deal with homelessness. The right way to do things would’ve been to set up the resources and then, if necessary, start talking about making a law.
Support for the Anti-Homeless Law
As a side note, every comment I’ve seen on the internet that’s in favor of the law has been something like this:
- I own a business and sometimes homeless people sleep by it. (This is especially rich coming from restaurant owners who opened restaurants in areas where many homeless people have been sleeping for years.) This makes me and my customers uncomfortable.
- I see homeless people on the street. Sometimes they talk to me and ask me for money. This makes me uncomfortable.
Holy crap. You know what I do when a homeless person asks me for money? I generally decline to give him or her any money because I don’t have any. Then I go on my way. If it’s an especially egregious interaction, I might complain to Ben when I get home or write a blog post bitching about it. Because here’s the thing. Unlike the people who support this law because homeless people make them uncomfortable, I don’t believe I’m entitled to live in a world where nothing ever makes me feel uncomfortable. Hell, if I got to make things that make me uncomfortable declared illegal, people who support this ordinance would be illegal.
Let’s Talk About Albus Brooks
Here’s a fun (to me) tangent. To try to get an understanding of where he was coming from when drafting and sponsoring this ordinance, I spent some time on my City Councilman Albus Brooks’s Facebook page. I ended up becoming even more disgusted. The most recent post was this:
Tonight was not about winners or losers, it was about beginning a long process of providing smart services to individuals that need it the most. Time and patient application, not rhetoric, will reveal the true nature of this ordinance. Now it’s time to begin working on securing support for the next step-a 24 hour resource center.
I have so many questions. Shouldn’t the true nature of this ordinance have been revealed before it was passed? Shouldn’t Albus Brooks have begun working on securing support for the next step, a 24-hour resource center, before working to get this law passed? Shouldn’t he maybe have not only secured support but also built/established this center before working to get this law passed?
Here’s an exchange from the comments under the above entry:
Rachel: When I spoke at East High the day after you did, a girl said that you made the bill seem like a “bowl full of cherries” and she was dead on. Sketchy politicking, a lack of knowledge about the population this will affect, and a lack of humility in really listening to those who work with them. Bringing diverse communities together? When you have folks like Charlie Brown backing you on issues such as this, you know you have lost your roots.
Albus: Rachel, that was one girl, how about the whole class. You only get half the story, your view is flawed. To be apart of transformation you need to see the whole picture. Sad that we can’t work together because of pride. Smh
First of all, it’s a part. Second, I have more questions. Why does he think she only has half the story? Why hasn’t he told the other half? Why does he assume her view is flawed because she disagrees with him? How does Albus Brooks expect anyone to see the whole picture when he doesn’t even seem to know what it is? To what pride is he referring? How did he determine that they can’t work together? It sounds to me like he’s making a personal attack on Rachel. Also, I can’t take you seriously if you use “Smh” in a professional capacity. But hey, because Albus Brooks thinks personal attacks are cool, I think Albus Brooks is a dismissive, patronizing, smug elitist who doesn’t know what he’s doing.
Scrolling through earlier entries on his Facebook page (which he lists on Twitter as his website, so I assume it functions as an official site), I discovered that when people left respectful comments that are critical of what was then the proposed law, he gave responses like this (extra assholery bolded):
I am disappointed you did not call our office and seek to understand what was being offered before you jump to conclusions. 1. When this bill is released it will be accompanied with 300-350 bed(please call me so I can give you detail…s 7203378888) 2. New services to the top 200 district court offenders ( which are all homeless) 3. We are currently in talks with the Mayors office to develop a 24 hr shelter through a public private partnership run by a non profit the first 24 hour resource center for homeless in this city. Lastly, I had businesses support me, but a GROUNDSWELL of D8 community support, would be happy to show you .
I am surprised at you, I thought you would at least call or email me to find out the facts before you jump to conclusions like everyone else. First i want to know what are you doing as an engaged residents is doing to get people off of the streets? It will take a the community but the community has not been engaged in what is actually going on there are only few advocates actually working on solutions and MANY naysayers throwing daggers. This is what I am doing with this bill 1. We opened up a church in our district house women who are homeless nightly 2. Waivers to increase shelter space in two specific shelters. 3. Working in conjunction with the Mayors office to develop a 24 hour resource center for homeless individuals.
The way he responds to concerned citizens is completely unacceptable. It’s not their job to call his office to hear his explanation. It’s his job to get his explanation out there. He sounds defensive and, frankly, a little creepy. The smiley face doesn’t help. His plans are vague and there is no evidence that any actual work has been completed. Where are the 300-350 beds (I added that “s” for him)? What are the new services to the top 200 offenders? Being “currently in talks” means nothing has actually happened. Having the support of businesses and a GROUNDSWELL of D8 community support does not negate the fact that some people disagree with this law or do anything to substantively address the issues. Some of the people who oppose this law, like me, live in D8. Also, asking a concerned citizen what he’s doing to get people off the streets is unacceptable and makes Albus Brooks look defensive. It also makes me think that if I ever contact Albus Brooks with a concern, he’ll just ask me what I’ve done to solve the problem, which is not really what I’m looking for from my Councilman. If the community has not been engaged, why hasn’t he been trying to get them engaged?
Finally, I respectfully suggest that he hire a professional editor.
I considered sending my concerns to Albus Brooks directly, but I don’t see the point of giving him the chance to say that he’s disappointed in me for forming an opinion based on the information he’s put out there or to virtually shake his head at me. Albus, you’re welcome to contact me should you like to discuss my concerns further.
All that said, maybe there is good news for the homeless people of Denver. I’m working on finding out his address (as you may have guessed, he did not return to the thread to post it) so I can let everyone know they’re invited to stay at Albus Brooks’s place.