Denver camping ban still causing debate

11:16 AM, Apr 3, 2013   |    comments
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DENVER - The weather may finally be warming up, but the April showers are just beginning - leaving nearly 1,000 people in the Denver metro area wet.

On May 23, 2012, Denver officials enacted a camping ban that makes it a crime for any person to shelter him or herself from the elements while residing on any public or private property without appropriate permission. This means that it is illegal for homeless people to sleep, sit for extended periods, or store their personal belongings anywhere in Denver, if they use any form of protection other than their clothing.

Violations can bring up to a $999 fine and a year in jail.

Denver officials developed the camping ban as a tool to pressure the homeless to move out of downtown areas.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock publically supported the ban when discussion first began in October 2011. A Denver Post article said Hancock was in favor of outlawing sleeping on the 16th Street Mall.

On Wednesday, nearly a year after the ban was enacted, Denver Homeless Out Loud released a "report from the street." The study includes interviews from over 500 homeless people in Denver discussing how the ban has impacted their lives.

The majority of homeless respondents say their life has become more challenging, more stressful and less safe since the ban was enacted. Since they can no longer sleep in the well-lit area of the 16th Street Mall, many have been forced to find dark alleys where they say they feel much less safe.

Police do not issue citations as much as they have told respondents to "move along," or give them a citation for a different crime. However, to avoid the constant stress of finding somewhere new to sleep every night, 40 percent of those who used to sleep downtown said they have tried to get into shelters more often. 63 percent of those said shelters are more crowded and harder to get into than they used to be.

Critics have argued that there are not enough shelters for all of Denver's unsheltered homeless people, and that the ban criminalizes activities necessary for homeless people to survive while they are forced to live on the streets.

Proponents claimed that the ban would improve the appearance and business climate of downtown Denver, while also connecting homeless people to social services and improving their quality of life.

After discovering that the camping ban has instead negatively affected Denver's homeless community, DHOL reported recommendations on how the ban may be improved. Among them is to repeal or modify the ban to designate a safe, well-lit outdoor space in Denver where unsheltered homeless people can sleep, shelter themselves, and access bathrooms and water. They also advise changing the enforcement protocol so that police must identify and offer service and shelter options to homeless campers before telling them to "move along."

Morgan Aguilar contributed to this report.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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