Ten More Cops for What?
1.8 million additional city dollars have been proposed to spend policing downtown. A top priority is policing people for the “criminal acts” of being homeless – including but not limited to, not having an indoor place to sleep or urinate, and asking for money when you have none – instead of using this 1.8 million for housing, bathrooms, or jobs.
On Wednesday June 4th, 2014 Denver City Council Government and Finance Committee passed a budget request for “$1.8 million Supplemental Appropriation for Denver Police and Sheriff Department for Increased Security Presence.” This budget request will now be moving toward approval from the whole City Council. (The date for this hearing is still unknown.)
If this proposal passes, $900,000 would be spent to add 10 police officers to patrol the so-called “hot spots” of the 16th St Mall, the Ballpark neighborhood (where St Francis Center, the Rescue Mission, Samaritan House, and many other services for homeless people are located), and Lodo. Another $900,000 would be spent on estimated increased “arrest and detention costs.” Alongside this $1.8 million of city budget, the Downtown Denver Partnership has already spent $100,000 of their own money to hire one additional officer per block along the 16th St Mall.
This request for additional policing was made by Mayor Hancock in an effort to accommodate the complaints of the Ballpark Neighborhood Association about the Lawrence St Community Center addition to the Denver Rescue Mission recently approved by the City Council.
Of course it would be unconstitutional discrimination for city officials to direct the police force specifically to target people who are homeless because of their housing status. So instead they explain that it is not about homelessness itself but about “criminal activity.” What sort of criminal activity? Panhandling, smoking weed, and public urination were three top crimes mentioned by Denver Police Chief Robert White. Plus of course the crime of sleeping in public. Laws against sitting/lying down along the 16th St Mall, and “loitering” in various areas will also be enforced.
So while Chief White and others can claim “homelessness is not a crime,” trying to exist and survive in public space is a crime. If you don’t have a home of your own to sleep, sit, or urinate in, and the only place you have to do these things is public space, than you are by default a criminal.
Now lets step back for a second and ask: “What are the appropriate solutions for the problems at hand?” For, as Council Woman Kniech so aptly put it, “We won’t solve what this area is upset about if we don’t spend the money on [solutions] and as quickly and aggressively as we spent this supplemental.”
If panhandling is a problem, the solution would be for people who are panhandling because they lack money to be offered employment or a disability check that actually meets their needs.
-58 people could be hired full time at $15 hr for a year for the $1.8 million the City is proposing to spend on police. For example, people could be hired to clean the streets if that is a real issue. (In New York City, San Rafael (CA) and elsewhere, programs successfully employ unhoused people to remove trash, shovel snow and keep downtown business areas clean. See AceNewYork.org, doe.organd streetsteam.org.)
If public urination is a problem, the solution would be to have accessible public bathrooms for people to urinate in.
-In Seattle it costs $600,000 per year to maintain one “Urban Rest Stop” which have bathrooms, showers, washing machines, and basic toiletries. Denver could maintain three “Urban Rest Stops” at that price with the 1.8 million proposed to spend on policing. (See http://www.urbanreststop.org/ for more information)
-In Portland it costs $90,000 to purchase and install one Portland Loo (a solar powered toilet and sink) and $14,400 to maintain it for a year. Denver could buy 17 Portland Loos and maintain them for a year for the $1.8 million. (See https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bes/59293 for more information)
-Right here in Denver’s own Washington Park the city is spending $160,000 for bathrooms (See http://www.westword.com/2014-05-15/news/rangers-in-denver-parks/) Why can the city afford to upkeep and clean the bathrooms in Wash Park and not downtown where people who are homeless have no place to use a restroom?
If sleeping in public places is a problem, the solution would be to offer people housing they can afford.
-206 single people could be given a studio apartment for a year for the $1.8 million to be spent policing people sleeping outside. (If someone has no income, rent for a studio apartment would cost the city about $725 per month, including utilities, or $8700 a year)
-360 “Tiny Homes” could be built at $5,000 a piece (as is done in Madison, Wisconsin) for this 1.8 million (See http://occupymadisoninc.com/ or http://quixotevillage.com/ for more information)
Email City Council Members asking them to vote no on CB14-440
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Come to a Denver Homeless Out Loud meeting to organize to stand against this proposal —
Wednesdays 4:45pm at American Friends Service Committee room in the Court House Square apartment building, 901 W 14th Avenue.
Come speak out at City Council Meeting when this proposal will be heard (date still unknown – keep an eye out for this announcement).