New Denver City Ordinance to Simply Mask Homelessness, Not Solve It

Kim Hughes : Wednesday May 2, 10:44AM

Denver hasn’t been too shabby of a place to be homeless. You can find free meals every day, there are overnight shelters and daytime shelters that are open when the overnight ones are closed. There are free medical clinics, including a traveling medic van and just about every service provider has staff members specializing in employment and housing placements. That’s all a large reason for why we’ve had an increase in Denver’s homeless population – people migrate here for the services. It’s a real Utopia.

Not for long.

While the services that are in place are wonderful, they are all Denver’s got. There is no funding for increasing the services to match the increasing population. The number of beds stays pretty much the same, as does the number of staff. Colorado is one of the worst states for mental health care and many of the chronic homeless are that way because of mental health issues. Without mental health care providers, we make our social workers become the doctors. The limited staff resources that they have must focus on taking care of the mentally ill who are in their shelter and spending less time working with those whom could actually be pulled out of their situation. My husband works at a daytime shelter where they only have enough funding to provide 3-4 staff members for the average of 630 homeless individuals who come daily. To say that they are stretched thin is a severe understatement.

Now add this to the cluster: an urban camping ban ordinance has been proposed and preliminarily passed by the Denver City Council. This means that it would be illegal and grounds for arrest to sleep outside on Denver City property – public and private. This is their solution to ending homelessness.

That is pretty much the extent of their proposal. Nowhere in the ordinance are any suggestions for increased services. The overnight shelters are already completely full and that’s with much of the population sleeping outside. This ordinance is being proposed with the total assumption that those who are “camping” have other options.

False.

Now, if the ordinance provided funding to add dozens of new overnight shelters, then we could have a discussion about this. There is nothing of the sort. Those who are backing the ordinance have stated that the shelters will have to squeeze more in and that perhaps churches can open up their doors during the night. Perhaps… but who is going to fund those overnight employees? This ordinance will create a nightmare for the already stretched service providers of Denver – and the City Councilmembers who want it to pass because homelessness is an eyesore are going to throw this in their laps to deal with and move on.

Furthermore, Denver Police Chief Robert White is now saying that they probably will make hardly any arrests if this ordinance passes – the police will just tell those who are sleeping to move along.  Move along… to where?

The only option they’ll have besides jail at that point in the night is to move along to the next unmanned spot in the dark or to the suburbs. Urban “camping” is not a luxury – there are no smores or expensive gear. There are no other options of places to sleep. The fact that the ordinance is using the term “camping” is insulting.

Even if there were available beds in the shelters for the “campers” to sleep in, that’s not always the safest option. With the increase of mental health problems in the homeless community and the complete lack of services to deal with it, the shelters are often an unsettling place to be in – for both the ill and not ill.

So, why have an ordinance to make sleeping outside within the city’s boundaries illegal when the police don’t even really intend on enforcing it? This is simply an ordinance to have police move people around all night long from one block to the next. This is a waste of everyone’s time and money.

Real solutions are to provide more shelters, mental health care, affordable housing units and more specialized staff to provide the services. Sure, we don’t have any money for that. Fine, we can accept that and carry on as we have been. All of the service providers have continuously progressed in the number of individuals whom they are able to find housing and employment for – perhaps not as effectively as they could be doing with more resources, but they are still doing good in the community. Don’t pass an ordinance that will regress all of that. Don’t stretch them thinner than they already are. Don’t punish them just so that Denver can look “prettier and safer”. Give them what they need to do their job to take care of this issue for you or stay out of it and let them be the experts.

I strongly suggest reading this article from the Westword, which actually focuses on the population who will be affected by this, not on the politicians.


Author Bio:

Kim is responsible for coordinating the social media presence of the Alliance, the graphic design of Alliance collateral, creating videos that document the Alliance’s work, managing and updating content on the website and documenting the Alliance Center Building Renovation project through visual mediums. For her first two years at the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, she worked as an administrative assistant, responsible for receptionist, office management, assistant and data entry duties. Before joining the Alliance, Kim worked for a nonprofit consulting firm in marketing and event coordination. Immediately after college, she volunteered full-time for The Gathering Place (Denver’s only daytime shelter for at-risk and homeless women and children) through Americorps. There, she was a Program Assistant.

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