You don’t have to look any further than Denver’s Civic Center Park, Park Avenue West or along the banks of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River to see what a dismal failure Denver’s camping ban has been.
But Denver’s Initiative 300, now before that city’s voters, won’t make the plight of the homeless any better, and it could ultimately make it worse.
Everyone in the metro area has a stake in the Denver ballot question, which voters should turn down.
The initiative is a well-meaning response to Denver’s heartless and useless camping ban, brokered by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and approved by the Denver City Council in 2012.
That measure made it illegal to sleep or even rest under a tarp in the snow anywhere camping isn’t specifically allowed in Denver — essentially everywhere. It also made it illegal to lie or sit on sidewalks and select public areas from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m.
No matter what proponents of the camping ban said, the measure was created to remove what many businesses, residents and elected officials consider an eyesore. Many see it as a negative image to have hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of homeless people loitering downtown and setting up hazardous encampments under bridges and along rivers and creeks.
Much of what Denver hoped to outlaw still exists in Denver, and much of the problem Denver didn’t want to deal with has been pushed along water corridors into the suburbs. Once an oddity, homeless people pushing belongings in grocery carts along suburban streets has become commonplace.
Meanwhile, a growing community of metro-area residents with no home are now living in Aurora vacant lots, under Denver bridges, behind Wheat Ridge strip malls, and in cars along streets and in shopping center parking lots across the metro area.
It’s a crisis that many leaders believe goes away when they aren’t forced to look at it.
It’s a dangerous illusion. Aurora in the past few years has stepped up to help answer the growing call to address metro-area homelessness. Lawmakers in Denver and across the region need to match Aurora’s effort.
Denver voters, however, need to turn back I-300. The ballot proposition will do nothing to find homes for the homeless nor make their lives safer in any measurable way.
While scare tactics from the measure’s critics about people squatting in front of houses and taking over parks are nothing more than fear mongering, the measure risks a bevy of unintended consequences. Chief among those could be the city’s inability to quickly intercede in patently dangerous encampments because courts could slow intercession to ensure homeless residents aren’t being harassed under this new measure.
Instead, Denver lawmakers should repeal its cruel camping ban, which obviously has done next to nothing to end even the dismal urban spectacle of the homeless on Park Avenue, Civic Center Park and other areas. It has done nothing to improve the lives of the homeless.
Homelessness is a regional problem that’s most apparent in Denver’s urban corridors. It’s a serious and growing problem, however, everywhere in the metro area.
Denver, metro-area counties and cities, either through the Denver Regional Council of Governments, or as a new coalition, must find a way to raise money to provide adequate shelters, resources and housing programs for the wide variety of people experiencing homelessness. That includes those that Denver had hoped to hide or shuffle off to neighboring communities.
Nothing short of a well-funded and comprehensive approach, offering far more shelter and short-term housing facilities than currently exist, will do anything but move homeless people from one location to another, but not into a home of their own.