Protests greet final passage of Denver homeless-camping ban
The Denver City Council approved a homeless-camping ban Monday night in the face of an angry crowd that taped dollar bills to their mouths, chanted "shame" after the 9-4 vote and staged a sit-in outside the chambers.
Mayor Michael Hancock is expected to sign the bill into law today.
The ordinance, which forbids unauthorized camping on public and privatein Denver, will go into effect May 30, giving police time to learn the procedures on how to deal with homeless people caught illegally sleeping outside.
Police Chief Robert White said he expects officers to have a "light touch" and arrests would occur only as a last resort.
"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," said the bill's sponsor, Councilman Albus Brooks. "Time and patient application, not rhetoric, will reveal the true nature of this ordinance."
Hancock later issued a statement, saying the passage of the bill was "a bold and necessary step forward to help ensure the highest level of health and safety for our entire city."
The legislation has sparked emotions and controversy since its beginnings, but the passions reached their peak Monday night, with protesters holding a rally outside the City and County Building and raising signs and voices during the meeting. Their post-vote sit-in disbanded when police officers asked them to leave.
During the meeting — which was not a hearing in which the public was allowed to comment — protesters shouted down council President Chris Nevitt, who pounded the gavel and screamed, "I need order, goddamn it," after threatening to clear audience members from the chamber.
Councilwoman Robin Kniech stood up and told audience members to behave or they wouldn't be able to witness the vote on the bill.
Advocates for the homeless have fought against the measure, saying it effectively criminalizes the act of being homeless. The four council members who voted against the bill — Paul Lopez, Susan Shepherd, Kniech and Debbie Ortega — didn't want it to be approved without proper services and shelter space available.
Before the vote, Shepherd made a tearful speech telling the crowd to "watch these suckers like a hawk" after the ordinance goes into effect. She called the vote a "great injustice and tragedy that we are about to commit in the name of compassion."
She also told the protesters to vote out anyone who supported the camping ban.
Lopez called the ordinance "wrong, because it punishes the poor for being poor."
And Ortega said the coroner's office has reported that more than 425 homeless people have died on the streets or from homeless-related causes over the past seven years and fewer shelter beds are available now than when the city's plan to end homelessness started in 2005.
But supporters said the ordinance will help people who are homeless find services. And it will give police the tools to move out homeless people, who over the past few years have irritated downtown merchants and tourists.
Councilman Chris Herndon, who voted for the bill, said that Colorado Springs has had a ban in place for several years and has seen its homeless population decline.
Councilman Charlie Brown, who voted for approval, said the vote was a "fight for the sanity of our city."
Brooks read the standard operating procedures that police officers will have to follow, saying that no one will be arrested or cited if they say they want services and none are available.
Moreover, he said, the homeless-camping ban is a first step. He said the discussion about the issue already has provided 240 more beds for the homeless than were available last summer.
"It's been really frustrating for this to turn into class war and a fight when we should be coming together," he said to the jeers of the crowd. "We disagree. That's OK. But we should be coming together around the people who are about to sleep outside and have no other choice."
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