Urban camping: Occupy Denver protests precede council vote on ban
It's crunch time. As the Denver City Council prepares for a final vote tonight on the proposed urban camping ban, opponents and proponents spent the weekend discussing the issue in meetings and on the streets. At the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, regional representatives hosted a panel to debate the ordinance, which could go into effect on May 29 if approved, while Occupy Denver slept overnight in front of the Downtown Denver Partnership to protest the organization's support of the ban. And there are more demonstrations to come.
Big photos below.
At the INC panel, held Saturday morning, speakers from Occupy Denver, city council, Denver's Road Home, the Denver Police Department and the Colorado Coalition For the Homeless, among others, answered questions presented by representatives of local neighborhoods. The greatest silver lining to come out of the morning might be that of additional group discussion in the future. "It will force us into collaboration," says Josh Davies, who is on the board of the Lower Downtown Neighborhood Association.
The panel's first question, which called on speakers to predict the results of the ban a year after it launches, took into account the current city council climate on the issue; at an eight-hour meeting two weeks ago, the council preliminarily voted in favor of the measure. "From a law enforcement perspective, the absolute, unequivocally last thing we want to do as a police department is arrest someone for a camping violation," DPD chief Robert White said. He stressed a case-by-case approach to enforcement. "As a very last resort, we have the option of citing or arresting," he said, but added that he hopes not to use it -- and certainly not without a supervisor present.
Courtesy of Kendra Kellogg
But opponents of the ban worry that department policies could change with time, creating a different standard of enforcement as years pass. While White promised that any individual without a city shelter available that night would not be ticketed or arrested, others questioned why that promise is not specifically included in the ordinance's language.
If people approach the police, either during an ordinance violation or otherwise, and request a shelter for the night, "We will find them a place to stay," promised Bennie Milliner, executive director of Denver's Road Home. But he stressed the importance of transitioning to permanent housing, the organization's primary goal, later saying, "This is not probably going to disappear as a result of this ordinance."
Although neither woman took part in the panel, council members Robin Kniech and Susan Shepherd, both of whom voted against the ban two weeks ago, attended the meeting. At its conclusion, a "beside herself" Shepherd addressed the gathering, close to tears, to summarize her position.
Page down to read about Shepherd's take and upcoming demonstrations.