Homelessness being criminalized in Ballpark neighborhood? Advocacy group says yes

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Photo by Britt Chester
More photos from our 2012 "Sleeping on the 16th Street Mall" slide show below.
Patricia Calhoun's recent post about the Ballpark Neighborhood Association opposing a homeless-day-center proposal prompted a huge debate among Westword readers, with residents decrying a homelessness situation that's allegedly getting out of control pitted against folks who feel people down on their luck are being ostracized and turned into scapegoats for endemic societal problems.

Now, the advocacy organization Denver Homeless Out Loud has leaped into the issue, arguing that a $1.8 million security plan that will add ten new police officers to patrol the Ballpark neighborhood, LoDo and the 16th Street Mall represents a new effort to criminalize homelessness.

In recent weeks, the Denver City Council's Government and Finance committee approved what's described in this document as a "request to appropriate supplemental funds in the amount of $1.8M for the Denver Police and Sheriff's Departments to increase the security presence on the 16th Street Mall, LoDo and the Ballpark neighborhood."

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The city council's Government and Finance committee discussing the supplemental security proposal.
This proposal must be blessed by the full city council to go into effect, and if it is, a Denver Homeless Out Loud release notes that "$900,000 would be spent to add ten police officers to patrol the so-called 'hot spots' of the 16th St Mall, the Ballpark neighborhood (where St Francis Center, the Rescue Mission, Samaritan House, and many other services for homeless people are located), and Lodo. Another $900,000 would be spent on estimated increased 'arrest and detention costs.'

"Alongside this $1.8 million of city budget, the Downtown Denver Partnership has already spent $100,000 of their own money to hire one additional officer per block along the 16th St Mall," DHOL points out.

The group's release maintains that "It would be unconstitutional discrimination for city officials to direct the police force specifically to target people who are homeless because of their housing status. So instead, they explain that it is not about homelessness itself but about 'criminal activity.'" Examples of the latter mentioned by Denver Police Chief Robert White include "panhandling, smoking weed and public urination" -- and DHOL adds that laws forbidding "sleeping in public," "sitting/lying down along the 16th Street Mall" and "'loitering' in various areas" are also expected to be enforced.

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Photo by Britt Chester
Denver Homeless Out Loud interprets the offenses to be targeted as a pretext to attack the homeless. But rather than siccing ten new cops on such people, the group offers a series of alternate suggestions. Here are some excerpts from its proposal, with the bold-print words in the original:
If panhandling is a problem, the solution would be for people who are panhandling because they lack money to be offered employment or a disability check that actually meets their needs.

• 58 people could be hired full time at $15 hr for a year for the $1.8 million the City is proposing to spend on police. For example, people could be hired to clean the streets if that is a real issue. (In New York City, San Rafael (CA) and elsewhere, programs successfully employ unhoused people to remove trash, shovel snow and keep downtown business areas clean. See AceNewYork.org, doe.org and streetsteam.org.)

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Photo by Britt Chester
If public urination is a problem, the solution would be to have accessible public bathrooms for people to urinate in.

• In Seattle it costs $600,000 per year to maintain one "Urban Rest Stop" which have bathrooms, showers, washing machines, and basic toiletries. Denver could maintain three "Urban Rest Stops" at that price with the 1.8 million proposed to spend on policing. (See http://www.urbanreststop.org/ for more information)

• In Portland it costs $90,000 to purchase and install one Portland Loo (a solar powered toilet and sink) and $14,400 to maintain it for a year. Denver could buy 17 Portland Loos and maintain them for a year for the $1.8 million. (See https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/59293 for more information)

• Right here in Denver's own Washington Park the city is spending $160,000 for bathrooms (See http://www.westword.com/2014-05-15/news/rangers-in-denver-parks/) Why can the city afford to upkeep and clean the bathrooms in Wash Park and not downtown where people who are homeless have no place to use a restroom?

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Photo by Britt Chester
If sleeping in public places is a problem, the solution would be to offer people housing they can afford.

• 206 single people could be given a studio apartment for a year for the $1.8 million to be spent policing people sleeping outside. (If someone has no income, rent for a studio apartment would cost the city about $725 per month, including utilities, or $8700 a year)

• 360 "Tiny Homes" could be built at $5,000 a piece (as is done in Madison, Wisconsin) for this 1.8 million (See http://occupymadisoninc.com/ or http://quixotevillage.com/ for more information)

DHOL holds weekly meetings at 4:45 p.m. Wednesdays. The location is the American Friends Service Committee room in the Court House Square apartment building, located at 901 West 14th Avenue.

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive circa April 28: "Ballpark neighbors against homeless-day-center proposal take their protest to city council."

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150 comments
Clara Madrid
Clara Madrid

No this is just STUPID. How about rehabbing some of the hundreds of vacant buildings in the Denver Metro area, and providing needed services for the homeless? We have to stop being a STUPID society.

Justin Kershman
Justin Kershman

How about giving these people a HAND UP?...Instead of making being homeless a criminal offense! How is inability to obtain employment due to mental illness, or nobody willing to hire you due to not enough experience, or to much experience or just a plain run of bad luck criminal? This city, county and state is becoming garbage and it might be time to relocate to another state that isn't quite so hung up on that almighty dollar!

Sam Lang
Sam Lang

How in the world could that possibly help anything

Samantha Emerson
Samantha Emerson

They might. They might not. But more resources would certainly help! For someone who campaigned on being homeless as a child, he sure doesn't care to help the folks who currently are-and rent is obscene. Where are we supposed to live? Cornerstone bought another (affordable) building and kicked out all of the residents yesterday. This city is going to crap.

Courtnie James
Courtnie James

The irony... hire more police to help homeless issue. Unless the homeless people are going to be the cops why would that help them. Our state is swimming in money it's about time for actual help to these people not more harassment

Nikki Dorritie
Nikki Dorritie

no give them housing and they won't be on the streets

Aj Jensen
Aj Jensen

They were there first dude. When no one wanted that neighborhood. There's 2 homeless shelters RIGHT THERE. Homeless people are gonna be around. That's the society we live in. People can stop being spoiled and sheltered.

Travis Gann
Travis Gann

How many people do you think were raped, killed, assaulted, scammed, robbed, or threatened in the time it takes two cops to write a bullshit tickets on 16th street cuz some sad helpless man didn't wait for dark to pull out his sleeping bag? Why should any of us respect or follow the "law" when the police themselves show zero respect for it? I know I don't. Why should I? Don't tell me stealing breaks the law. What law? There is none if the cops are using worse standards than I am

Vanity Rivera
Vanity Rivera

I love how u used the term "illegals" as if they are not people. But arguing for homelessness for being treated the same way.

Patrick Raspberry
Patrick Raspberry

More inferior Denver cops? No thanks. You'd have better luck with neighborhood watch...

MattandKayla Yeaman
MattandKayla Yeaman

There are so many alternate ways of dealing with this! You can't make it illegal to be homeless...that doesn't make sense. They can't help that they are homeless, that is as stupid as making it illegal to be a man...if it is something the person can't help, how can we penalize them for it? Here is a thought- colorado is already trying to figure out what to do with the excessive revenue from ammendment 64, why not build them a cheap (they don't need any state-of-the-art crap) homeless shelter with a bit of the excess money?

Brent Dishneau
Brent Dishneau

More cops? So it's not housing, food, mental health resources, or job assistance they need...it's more cops that can snap and beat them to death? Maybe the next thing to be illegal will be tattooed while wearing a muscle shirt or being a woman while breast feeding.

Nick Jones
Nick Jones

There has always been homeless ppl dwntwn but for sure there is an alarming number currently. Also, the black tar heroin has got kids from across the nation hooked n stuck here.

Patty Leidy
Patty Leidy

how bout we build affordable housing or give away housing to them..

Amanda McGregor
Amanda McGregor

I love how many people are uneducated about the issue but still have opinions about it. If you don't like the homeless or drug crime then move to Highlands Ranch. The homeless have been in that area longer than the lofts, it's not as if people chose the location without knowing what exists there. The resources for the homeless are in that area. They have a community there, and though it may not look like it to some it has the right to exist just like any other.

Kim Heffelfinger
Kim Heffelfinger

The homeless are everywhere. Not just the Ballpark neighborhood. ;)

Joslyn Larned
Joslyn Larned

It's funny how there's so much help for illegals but the homeless just stay homeless. I'd say priorities are way out of order. Most homeless have psychiatric issues. People in jail get better treatment than our homeless and our soldiers. WTF AMERICA??

L Vincent Miltenberger
L Vincent Miltenberger

If we all became homeless and quit trying to live in a busted system this wouldn't be a problem. It's called changing your state of consciousness. As a society we are due for it.

Amber Rae Schultes
Amber Rae Schultes

1.8 million dollars in bathrooms WOULD absolutely solve the problem of them SMOKING CRACK IN PUBLIC!!!! They'd have a place to smoke it..., Nothing will help a homeless crackhead that chooses the life of crime.... People are talking about genuine homeless people that are down on their luck.... Well I got news for you. The ballpark homeless are entitled law breakers. They have been given resources and chose to turn them away.... I watch it night after night. Don't believe me? Go spend an hour watching the triangle from the apartments rooftop across the street (Broadway plaza lofts) You can spot out the crack dealer on given nights.... From 10 floors up. It doesn't take rocket science. You'll see lots of homesless people surround one person, walk away... Load up the pipe n start hitting it right there!! The whole place will look like fireflies from people smoking crack... In our beloved streets!! Broadway and park ave are one of the nicest streets in denver, it's just a terrible place to intersect with crime. Crime we tolerate.... Because while I KNOW what I can see from 10 stories up, at the same time I watch in awe, the cops are too. One on the fancy guardian cameras are up about one story, observing and ignoring it all!!!

Bret Egan
Bret Egan

http://www.denversroadhome.org/ I dont know what you all are talking about. In a matter of 6 months, homelessness will end. The Denver's Road Home set out to eradicate homelessness by 2015. We are almost there!

Alix Rael
Alix Rael

Money for police but no money to build a shelter? Really?

A-stitch Saves Minds
A-stitch Saves Minds

Becoming homeless is just a disability check away. I have MS, it's not a choice to be diagnosed with a incurable disease, not being able to work & do everything I used to do. Rents have gone through the affordable level for people working 2 jobs, now imagine living on 750 per month. Being homeless is pushed on people with disabilities. I have several college degrees, but when your body can not function as it did, you are no longer viewed as a real productive human. Just wait until a disease ruins your life.

Legen Dairy
Legen Dairy

Yea its not a crime to be homeless. But some dont want to be off the streets. The Rescue Mission has a great program if you put in the effort. With getting you a ged and even a car and some cash when you graduate the program. More programs should pop up to get you vocational training, give you housing while you are in the program and work with employers to hire you once you are done. Im so tired of people who are homeless treating the mall like it is their house. Arresting them won't do any good for loitering they would be back out in a few hours.

Eric Ontiveros
Eric Ontiveros

Just open a park with a lot of benches and call it bum park. Dedicate it to them

Jason Taylor
Jason Taylor

Stop wasting money on the thugs in law enforcement and set up housing and shelters for the homeless. Spending money on the cops has never ever fixed a problem.

Lydia Cabrera
Lydia Cabrera

Let's take some of the MMJ taxes and help to clean up this area and help some folks out, the residents and homeless. There must some be some balance to be achieved.

Traci Thompson
Traci Thompson

Denver could be a city that sets an example instead of masking the problem.

Traci Thompson
Traci Thompson

Great article. I like the comparisons of what other cities have done for solutions. Denver is so forward thinking why don't they do that.

Kim Heffelfinger
Kim Heffelfinger

Should it be criminalized? NO!! Should there be housing for them, YES!! If you (generalized) think that it can't happen to you, you're wrong. What would you want if the streets were the only place to call "home"??

John Scruggs
John Scruggs

Something needs to be done. I drive a cab, so I don't live around there, but it looks like a fucking zombie war zone. We need some kind of housing for these poor helpless folks.

Daniel J. King IV
Daniel J. King IV

Yeah, let's just waste another 1.8 million on LYING Bum-Beating 'Doughnut-Eaters'...

Garrett Latte Heidel
Garrett Latte Heidel

Whoaaaa, You must still dream in black & White. Please understand that fighting fire w/ fire has never worked in the past and it will not work in the future.

Kyle Williams
Kyle Williams

Steve. Because he's hungry. What more of a reason do you need?

Jeff Gorski
Jeff Gorski

We could probably spend the money elsewhere. But i personally don't like the idea of getting jumped by a gang on 16th st mall ( a very occupied area) and other areas around. When i am going out and spending money in denver i expect to feel safe because we don't live in the hood. As for the homeless, its pretty unfortunate that there are so many. But the crime and the lack of respect I've seen from homeless around the area is obviously an issue. Just go to the area yourself and see drug deals in broad daylight and trash everywhere when there are trash cans right down the street. The homeless don't pay taxes we do. So have some more programs to help them get clean and do job interviews because the work is out there in denver. And if you don't think so you are lying to yourself. Most of them are homeless because they don't care one way or the other. Not all, and that is why there are programs to help these people. But when i see drug deals and bums stumbling around the streets its apparent they don't really give a crap about bettering themselves like the rest of the tax payers that pay for the streets they trash on a daily basis.

Justine Sandoval
Justine Sandoval

10 new officers in the Ballpark area is fine but not just to police the homeless. Take some control over all over the drunk bar patrons around that area who don't know how to control themselves too. I grew up in downtown and the homeless have lived in this city right along with me and everyone else for a long time. Sorry, no matter how you invest and rebuild somethings you just can't build over. Like the reality of social inequality.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

A great first step toward ending the homeless problem is to first end America's conservative problem.  Once conservatives are voted out of office, the policies that caused both the first and second great republican depressions would be ended.  Tax cuts for the wealthy will become less important than helping Americans in need.

Before reagan, there were many more treatment options for the mentally ill that make up most of the homeless population.  

Cutting taxes for the rich,

Cutting services for the poor,

I don't think America

can take it anymore.

Ronald Reagan, even worse than Bush.

Molly Breen
Molly Breen

Why not use the money that would pay those officers to actually help the homeless. We need to stop spending money on things that don't fix the issues.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

You don't want to be a stupid society?  Then we have a republican problem.  If we could use these extra police to round up the conservatives and keep them in a "special" place away from good Americans, we would solve the stupid society problem.  Personally, I don't even like to shop around republicans.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

The proper term is "Doughnut Freak."

rlyall.rl
rlyall.rl

I have pictures of your tax paying police and others trashing the streets and alleys of their own neighborhoods.

Please!!!!

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@muhutdafuga ... Donut-Bloated Dullards.



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