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October 17th the Palm published a statement noting the camping ban is not helping people who are homeless and should be repealed or amended http://blogs.westword.com/cafesociety/2013/10/palm_boycott.php.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.