Letter of Support for Panhandling Ordinance Changes

Dear Denver City Council,

As a result of a Federal District Court ruling that a Grand Junction panhandling ordinance is UNCONSTITUTIONAL (because it violates a person’s free speech rights)– on September 30, 2015 Denver Police Chief Robert White instructed all Denver Police Department officers to stop ticketing people under the Denver Panhandling Ordinance (Section 38-132). This Grand Junction ruling and resulting decision to hold off of enforcement against panhandling in Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs comes with warm welcome and excitement from people across Colorado who receive badly needed money, resources, and support by passively asking the public for help. We hope and ask that Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, and all other Colorado City Councils respond to this Grand Junction ruling by repealing these unconstitutional panhandling ordinances. 

The Grand Junction ruling affirmed that non-aggressive panhandling is free speech and all the other aspects of the panhandling law regarding “aggressive panhandling” are covered in other existing laws such as harassment. 

Panhandling is a necessity that allows many people to get basic life sustaining things such as bus fare and food. Without the ability to ask for and receive donations from the public, people with no other source of income would not be able to take a bus to a job interview, buy a sandwich, or buy a cup of coffee in order to have a warm indoor place to be in the winter. 

It is costing the city large sums of money to police, ticket, arrest, and take people to court for panhandling. By allowing people to non-aggressively panhandle, Denver will save money that can be spent on employment opportunities, housing, and other basic needs. 

Making these changes to the panhandling ordinance is critical to ensure our constitutional rights are respected and people’s basic needs can be met. It is important that, along with these changes to the law, changes are also made in how police enforce the law. A recent study by ACLU in Colorado Springs showed that, over a period of more than two years, nearly a third of the tickets issued for illegal “soliciting” were in fact given to people who were just passively holding a sign asking for donations, which is legal. And rather than dismiss these tickets, the courts regularly prosecuted them, often against poor and homeless people, imposing fines and even jail sentences. https://www.aclu.org/news/colorado-springs-targets-impoverished-people-through-unfair-discriminatory-and-illegal  We urge the city to hold police accountable for only enforcing the law against actual aggressive behavior and not against people who are in fact following their legal rights to non-aggressively panhandle. 

These amendments to the panhandling ordinance to allow people to ask for help in a non-aggressive manner will free people to do what they need to get by without being treated by the law as less than human, constantly moved around, ticketed, arrested for FTAs/FTPs, spend time in jail, and go through our courts. We want to thank Council for considering these changes and are hopeful that all council members will vote for the new proposed changes to the panhandling law.

Sincerely,

Denver Homeless Out Loud

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