Month: November 2013

Urban Camping Ban Violation Ticketed and Dismissed Under Wrong Charge

On Monday November 4th, 2013 Nichole, a woman experiencing homelessness in Denver, went to court for a ticket issued to her for “unlawful camping.” She was given this ticket while lying on her blanket under the “pillars” in Civic Center park on a cold rainy afternoon. The description on the ticket said “unlawful camping”, but instead of citing the ordinance number for the urban camping ban, the officer cited 39-7a which is a park violation prohibiting sleep in or on a blanket in the park overnight. However, as noted, this ticket was issued in the afternoon, not at night when the park camping violation 39-7a would apply. So why did the officer issue this ticket under the ordinance for park camping violation instead of the urban camping ban which actually would apply to lying on a blanket under the pillars during the day? Neither the city attorney or the Magistrate over the case seemed to have an answer to this.

 

At court the city attorney dismissed the “unlawful camping” under park violation 39-7a charge because this law does not apply during the day and thus does not apply to Nichole’s situation. The city attorney did not choose to add a charge for unauthorized camping (urban camping ban) which would be the accurate charge. When Magistrate Mark Muller called Nichole’s case his immediate response was “Unlawful camping? I didn’t think the city was filing these cases.” Technically they are not. But in this case the ordinance the officer cited (39-7a) did not actually apply whereas the urban camping ban would.

 

Denver Homeless Out Loud’s survey in the winter of 2012 of over 500 people who are homeless about the effect of the camping ban, showed that people are not being given tickets for urban camping. Instead, they are being approached for sleeping or covering themselves, in violation of the urban camping ban, and then are being given tickets for other charges, especially park curfew or trespassing. The ticket issued to Nichole under a park violation but titled “unlawful camping” proves to be the same situation. A ticket was issued for another, in this case inapplicable, charge, after the person was approached because of the urban camping ban. Regardless of what ordinance number the ticket is cited under, the same situation occurs: police approach someone because of the camping ban, tell them they can’t lie there, and if they don’t pick up their blankets and “move along,” issue a ticket for another charge (such as park curfew, trespassing, or in this case “unlawful camping” under park violations).

 

No matter whether Nichole was given a camping ban, park violation, trespassing, or other such ticket, she still had to move on from the warmer place where she was resting at the time, and make it to court to settle the ticket.

 

Clearly, the city, with the enthusiastic approval of the Downtown Denver Partnership (which supported and encouraged the passage of the urban camping ban) is following a strategy of using the urban camping ban, and the threat of a ticket or arrest, to get people without houses to stay away from areas the city doesn’t want them to be in. When this doesn’t work the person is often ticketed on another charge, thus avoiding the constitutionality of the urban camping ban from being challenged in court–a challenge which the city’s attorneys have advised them (based on other cases and legal opinions nationwide) they could well lose.

 

What should we as people experiencing homelessness and allies do about this situation? Should we work together to amend or overturn the camping ban? If so, what is the best way to do this?

 

We of Denver Homeless Out Loud welcome you to join us in our discussions and planning around this and other issues that critically impact the lives of people experiencing homelessness–and therefore of all Denver residents. We meet every Wednesday from 4:45 to 7 pm at 901 W 14th Avenue, in the offices of the American Friends Service Committee. (Turn north off of 14th Avenue at Santa Fe, across from King Soopers, into the Courtyard Square Apartment complex.) For more information:

 

(720) 415-2434

info@denverhomelessoutloud.org

www.denverhomelessoutloud.org

https://facebook.com/denverhomelessoutloud

 

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Urban Camping Ticket Issued to Woman for Trying to Stay Warm

One and a half years after the Urban Camping Ban became law, Denver has issued at least one ticket for “unauthorized camping.” Recently a woman who is homeless was lying with a blanket to stay warm on a rainy day. The law makes it illegal for anyone to sleep or sit and cover themselves against the elements with anything except their clothing. Denver police saw this camping ban violation and issued her a ticket. If convicted she can be sentenced to “up to $999 or one year in jail.” She will face a judge on this charge of sleeping and trying to stay warm on Monday November 4th at 8am. Anyone who wishes to be witness to this initial arraignment should come to the Lindsay Flanagan court house room 4A.

Six months after the Urban Camping Ban passed City Council, Denver Homeless Out Loud surveyed over 500 people experiencing homelessness about the impact of the camping ban on their lives (http://issuu.com/denverhomelessoutloud/docs/surveyreport). At that time there had been no tickets issued for urban camping. Instead people were being approached for sleeping or covering themselves, but were being given tickets for other charges, especially park curfew or trespassing. Most commonly people approached by police for camping ban violations were simply told to “move on.” But “move on” to where? 66% of survey respondents reported moving to more hidden or unsafe locations, and 20% reported they now sleep in more outlying neighborhoods or other cities. While 72% respondents slept outside before the ban, 64% still reported sleeping outside after the ban. In contrast, only 7% of respondents were able to get into independent housing. Furthermore, 37% of respondents sometimes chose not to cover themselves in the middle of winter in order not to violate the camping ban. Now, at least one woman who did use a blanket to try to stay warm has been charged with this “crime.”

This ticket was issued on October 1st, just two weeks before the Palm Restaurant became the second downtown Denver establishment to change its stance and oppose the urban camping ban. The Palm is a member of the Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP), and both Palm and DDP  executives testified in favor of the Camping Ban when it was being considered in City Council. On October 17th the Palm published a statement noting the camping ban is not helping people who are homeless and should be repealed or amended http://blogs.westword.com/cafesociety/2013/10/palm_boycott.php. In the past 6 months three States (Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Illinois) have passed Homeless Bills of Rights addressing people’s right to “acts of living” (i.e. sleeping, sitting/lying, eating) in public. In the past 3 months camping ban protests in Eugene, Oregon have led to amendments allowing all people who are homeless to set up tents and sleep in soon-to-be designated locations around the city.

Now that the Urban Camping Ban has been in effect in Denver for over a year and there are still thousands of people in Denver who are without a home or somewhere to legally “move on” to. Yet the question remains: Do people, like this woman who has just been issued a ticket for using a blanket to to stay warm, have a right to sleep and protect themselves the cold? Especially as winter approaches this becomes a question of life or death.