City Planning Sweep and Closure of Encampment Just after COVID Testing Found Zero Positive Cases in this Encampment
STOP THE TERROR!! HOUSING NOT SWEEPS!!
On Wednesday June 17th 2020 the City, using the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE), is planning a sweep and closure of all the encampments along 22nd, Stout, and Champa. There are about 97 tents in this area which means roughly 250 people. These are the very same camps that just tested for COVID and found zero positive cases. They are planning this sweep without even replying to the demand of the camp residents that decision makers with DDPHE come to the streets and meet with them to hear the needs of residents and how to really address health and safety needs. They are planning this sweep without giving any reply to the letter we sent laying out solutions to the issues they raised (see attached). They are planning this sweep regardless of CDC guidance which states that encampments should not be swept during COVID and instead bathrooms and handwashing stations should be provided.
This sweep and closure also goes directly against the agreement from the Mayor’s office to “not displace people or their property during this emergency” and then later the agreement to allow people to return to the area after a sweep. The Mayor will not stop lying to us.
Why are they doing this?? To try and push people out of sight out of mind, to appease businesses and neighbors, and to make it look like they are doing something about visible homelessness as is directed by Mayor Hancock. Will they achieve their goals with this sweep? NO. Is this about Health and Safety as they say it is? NO. As is shown in the COVID test results where 0 people test positive at encampments, whereas at least 106 have tested positive at shelters, it is healthier for people to stay outside in a tent than in a shelter. Yet, regardless of all the evidence DDPHE and the City are still telling people to go to leave their tents and go to shelters.
Again we must make these demands the City and DDPHE:
Schedule a meeting with a decision maker in DDPHE to with encampment residents before Wednesday (contact us at DHOl to schedule this street meeting).
Start meeting the actual health and safety needs of encampment residents by providing trash cans, dumpsters, port-a-potties, handwashing stations, and other sanitation needs.
Call off the Sweep!! Start investing in HOUSING not SWEEPS.
Mandamus Filed to Mandate Housing Be Opened for Houseless
Demand Governor Polis Open Up HOUSING NOW!!
Yesterday we filed a Writ of Mandamus in court aiming to get the State of Colorado and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to do their job: Protect the people of Colorado in this health crisis by mandating existing empty housing be opened for Coloradans living in shelters and on streets. Homeless individuals and homeless advocacy organizations across from the state of Colorado joined together as plaintiffs in this case, filed by attorney Jason Flores-Williams, because across Colorado cities are not opening housing needed to keep our communities safe. Opening new congregate shelters with more space, or putting those showing symptoms in hotels, does not stop the spread of this virus. Individualized housing is necessary. Everyone must have a home to be able to follow stay at home orders.
The Governor of Colorado, now Gov Jared Polis, has the explicit authority in a state of emergency to “commandeer or utilize any private property if the governor finds this necessary to cope with the disaster emergency;” and to “Make provision for the availability and use of temporary emergency housing C.R.S. 24-33.5-704(7)(i).”
There are about 19,452 unoccupied housing units in Denver as well as ones across the state. Plus, as the COVID crisis has largely stopped travel, the large majority of hotel rooms across the nation are sitting empty – between apartments and hotels there is plenty to house all those without housing in Colorado.
Governor Polis must use this authority NOW to issue an order for vacant houses, apartments, or hotels to be opened up for people without housing at this time.
See the the letter to Governor Polis in the sign on link.
LEGAL ACTION FILED FOR HOUSING TO BE OPENED FOR HOUSELESS IN THIS COVID-19 CRISIS
Writ of Mandamus Filed TODAY — Press Release Below
Denver, CO—Homeless advocacy groups have come together from around the State to address the nightmare confronting thousands of Colorado homeless during this pandemic crisis. A brutal Hobson’s choice, where homeless can either sleep in overcrowded shelters in beds inches from people exhibiting classic symptoms of the disease, or out on the streets where they are often the victims of abuse and violent crime.
The conditions in shelters and state mismanagement of homelessness in the time of pandemic, not only affects Coloradans suffering homelessness, but towns and cities across Colorado as the shelters serve as ideal hotspots for spread and retransmission of the virus. As of press time, at least ten homeless persons in shelters have tested positive for Covid-19. The number is almost certainly much higher as testing has been widely unavailable.
In a rare move, these groups courageously advocating for the invisible, voiceless and most vulnerable in our society are demanding, through this Extraordinary Petition, that the State fulfill its obligations with regard to public health and take steps to immediately mitigate the conditions in the shelters by providing housing to the homeless during this crisis. Cities and states around the country are stepping up to provide housing in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, e.g. Santa Fe, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Connecticut. Colorado must follow and go beyond by protecting every person in this state.
The Extraordinary Petition was filed this morning.
Mayor’s Office Says Will Not “Clear” Encampments During COVID Emergency, But Tries to Say They Can Still Enforce the Survival Ban
Displacement is displacement under any name.
On Tuesday evening March 24th, after a demand letter was sent to the Mayor in the morning from District 9 and a long list of other elected officials and community organizations, the Mayor’s office told the media that they “have continued to clean encampment areas but we are not clearing them during this public health situation.” Since the city has tried to avoid using the word “sweep” referring to their practice of displacing people and property at encampments and instead used the word “clean ups,” we followed up with the Mayor’s office to seek clarity on this statement. We asked, “when you say not “clearing” camps does this mean no one or their property will be displaced from that location?” The answer from the Mayor’s office was “Correct.”
Otherwise put, the Mayor’s office has said they will not be displacing people or their property at encampments during this COVID emergency.
However, the Mayor’s office is also trying to act like they can somehow still enforce the survival ban at the same time. In another media interview the Mayor’s office said, “the city wasn’t reconsidering enforcing the camping ban.” The statement that they will not be displacing people or their property during this emergency, and the statement that they will continue to enforce the camping ban, cannot coexist. Enforcing the camping ban, by its very nature, displaces people and their property.
The only way the city could enforce the ban and not displace people or their property would be to give people attainable housing they can move into now and stay in permanently. The city still does not have any plan to provide housing for all who are without during this crisis or beyond.
We will be holding the city to the statement that they will not be displacing people or their property at encampments during this COVID emergency. If the city sends police to displace people from public property – whether it be under the camping ban or under what the city calls “clean ups” or under any other law – we will be holding them to this promise to not displace our community during this pandemic.
Furthermore, in spite of the CDC’s guidance on providing sanitation resources instead of sweeping encampments, the Mayor’s office made no commitments to provide the needed porta-lets or handwashing stations to encampments. These sanitation resources are always needed, but especially now they must be provided directly at encampments. We will continue to demand the Mayor’s office follow through on this need in accordance with the CDC guidelines.
Denver Must Buy Housing for Houseless People as COVID Health Response
How are you supposed to self-quarantine, have social distance, get rest, wash your hands regularly, or any of the guidelines for protection in this health crisis if you don’t have a home? You can’t.
If this city is going to respond to the health of the whole community – which is ever so more clearly interconnected these days – they must buy or rent hotels, vacant buildings, or houses where people without housing can have the option to follow these community safety guidelines.
This has been done in other cities such as Seattle WA. It can be done here in Denver.
Here are a few vacant hotels or buildings we suggest the City of Denver buy or rent (or ensure vouchers for at least one month) immediately for people without housing.
Old VA Hospital on 9th and Colorado (1700 N Wheeling St Aurora, CO 80045)
Vacant Hotels Along Colfax
Vouchers for vacant apartments and/or hotel rooms
RV’s can be rented by the city and parked in government parking lots or other places for people to live
Any vacant city buildings or land should be used for housing (even tents if needed)
We also call on churches, community groups, anyone who has space to provide housing to a couple people in these times.
Furthermore, while the city is taking minimal steps to address our demands, most of these basic askes are still not being met by the city. We remind all that our resilience is interconnected. The lasting negative effects of the shut down of our city will have serious effects on those currently without housing, and those who will more likely be without housing soon…
Below are our demands we sent out on March 13th 2020 – noting what the city has done, and what still needs done:
Moratorium on encampment sweeps – Police enforcement of the survival ban is still happening. Just this morning some people living outside were woken by police. To have a real halt on jailing people for low-level offenses as the city declared they will do, this must include threatening people with jail verbally or with tickets.
Access to hygiene outside – The city has installed additional hand washing stations around town. This is good. However, they have still refused to place port-a-lets and hand washing stations near encampments where larger groups live outside and need these resources most.
Sanitation in shelters – The city is making call outs for sanitation supplies in shelters and is looking into opening a couple rec centers for additional shelter space. This is one step. However, we want to see this additional space is truly opened and that all the other sanitation needs listed in our demands, including dividing walls, are provided.
Health Care – There still is not any medics hitting the streets checking in for folks who need testing.
Moratorium on evictions – The city did state that the city will not be sending sheiffs to conduct evictions. This is very good. However, further clarity is needed on what that means for people who are facing evictions now or may face evictions if they cannot pay their rent. Will people have rent costs waived? Or will the city cover costs for those who cannot pay at this time? Will people not be evicted now only to find they own three months of rent later and are evicted with no way to catch up on the costs?
Housing – While the city is looking into hotel options this has not been actualized yet, and we are concerned it will only be for people who are showing symptoms and not include all those who are homeless forced to live in shelters and on the streets in vulnerable situations. We as a city and as a society must ensure there are housing options available for all to live healthy and safe. Please send the us and the city ideas for housing, hotels, buildings, land, ect that can be used to meet our communities need.
Demands of the Unhoused Community Regarding COVID-19 Response
Mayor Hancock’s declaration of the state of emergency leaves the unhoused community out with no protection. As people without housing are unable to follow the CDC’s guidelines without a house to wash up, get rest, isolate oneself, ect. our city must take action to protect all those without housing in at least the following ways:
Maritorum on encampment sweeps
Access to hygiene outside
Sanitation in shelters
Moratorium on evictions
(See further details below)
Other major cities have suspended encampment sweeps to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Earlier today, the City of San Jose published the following emergency alert:
Encampment Abatements: In coordination with public health officials, the Housing Department has temporarily suspended abatements of homeless encampments to avoid the possibility of unintentionally putting anyone at greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.
It’s on the San Jose’s emergency response website, here: https://www.sanjoseca.gov/news-stories/news/emergency-notifications. Denver should do the same (and to include a moratorium on Camping Ban enforcement). The unhoused are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. This vulnerability is exacerbated by being forced into closed-air, close contact with others (which would necessarily include shelters).
With the spread of COVID-19, we must remember thatour communities’ health is interconnected — we must ensure adequate medical care and hygiene for every person, especially those who are unhoused. We should resist any further stigmatization of those living in encampments or shelters. If the virus spreads to unhoused communities, we must ensure they are provided the resources to prevent infection and further spread of the virus. We insist that public officials follow the policies and procedures outlined below to best ensure the health of both our unhoused and housed communities.
Moratorium on encampment sweeps, closures and vehicle tows. Encampment sweeps and closures shall be ended due to the necessity for sustained public health outreach and disease control. No vehicles shall be towed that house people which allow them to self-quarantine. Stable encampments and sleeping accommodations will reduce the spread of disease among unsheltered and general population through consistent access to services and ability for outreach and health workers to provide continuous care. Stable encampments will enable better contact investigation and epidemiological controls necessary. With increased risk of disease spread at shelters where one is in closed-air, close contact with others, many people will not take this risk of staying at shelters and instead must stay on the streets where one can have more space and open air to protect from catching disease.
It may be necessary for local public officials to fund designated encampments staffed with public health providers, hygiene supplies, food and water, with the ability to separate by risk, infected status, isolation, etc.
Moratorium on arrests for crimes of poverty. Arrests shall be halted for loitering, camping, criminal trespassing, or other crimes of poverty.
Access to health and hygiene. Portable toilets that are regularly maintenanced and handwashing stations shall be placed in areas accessible to large unhoused populations and encampments. Trash cans shall be placed near encampments to reduce trash pile up. Hand sanitizer shall be distributed to unhoused people along with information about avoiding and preventing COVID-19. Many more portable toilets and hand-washing stations regularly stocked with soap should be placed around areas where homeless people congregate – along Cherry Creek, the S. Platte River, the neighborhoods around downtown Denver, in all parks. Medical care shall be provided on-location for those who are unable or unwilling to enter hospitals due to substance use or mental health concerns.
Housing accomodations.Housing accommodations, potentially including modular units, shall be arranged immediately for anyone infected who does not have the ability to self-quarantine, as has been done in the Seattle area. If necessary, civil facilities including temporary emergency housing or unused public buildings shall be used to quarantine those who live in a particular encampment or area. This shall include safe parking programs for people who are vehicularly housed.
Shelters. Staff shall regularly sanitize and disinfect surfaces to prevent contamination. Hand washing stations should be located throughout the shelter, not just sinks in bathrooms. Mats and beds should be moved at least 12 feet away from another. Additional shelter space may need to be opened to accommodate this space needs. City buildings can assist in this need. Churches should also take action to assist in this need. Individual isolation accommodations shall be arranged immediately for anyone infected and anyone who is known to have been exposed to the virus. Shelters should provide a surgical mask to each guest daily to reduce the spread of colds, flu and the coronavirus within the shelter and help guests avoid touching their nose or mouth. Efforts should be made by shelters to serve healthy food that will help to alkalize the body to reinforce the immune system and make the body inhospitable for viruses. Those staying in shelters shall have access to harm reduction tools and shall not be denied service for any rule violations short of violence. Shelters shall be opened 24/7. The city should review procedures developed for nursing homes to see what can be implemented for shelters. For example dividers can be used to create more space between individuals mats.
Moratorium on Evictions. No one should be evicted from housing. That housing is necessary for people to follow the CDC’s guidelines and try to protect themselves and the community at large from further disease spread. City police should be stopped from assisting in any evictions. Other major cities including Miami have made such a declaration ending evictions.
Health Care Emergency Response. Medical professionals shall be deployed to provide testing for people living on the streets and in shelters. All testing and treatment shall be free.
Consider this a wake-up call. Many of these services are necessary to maintain public health and should continue to be offered until every person has a stable home.
Trump’s Homelessness Director Robert Marbut and Master HUD Budget Cutter Ben Carson, in Denver, believed to be Meeting with Mayor Hancock
Protest: Friday February 21st 2020 12noon at City Hall (14th and Bannock)
Denver, CO — Last month Trump fired the old head of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USIACH) and appointed Robert Marbut – a long time advocate of homeless concentration camps, criminalization, and housing only for “deserving” individuals.
Marbut does not believe in Housing First but instead believes all homeless individuals have to be “fixed” before they deserve housing. The “Velvet Hammer, approach” Marbut offers the same basic advice to most cities: Cut the goodies and build shelter-like jail facilities. He believes food sharing, public sleeping, and other survival activities should be criminalized so as to push people into facilities where they have to “behave.”
Sound familiar? Marbut and Hancock’s approach to homelessness is uncannily similar when you boil it down. Both believe in using police as a “stick” to push people into warehouses. Both perpetuate the narrative that homeless people are homeless due to personal faults and need to deal with their “behavior” more than they need housing. Both believe warehousing people through force, not choice, is the way to deal with homelessness.
Furthermore, this week Trump and Carson, director of Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), proposed cuts to the 2020 HUD budget amounting over 4.2billion from 2019 levels. Instead of investing in more low income public housing, this budget cuts funding for low income housing and invests in turning public housing into private housing that can quickly shift to market increases. Since 2013, this process – called Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) – has converted 130,035 units of public housing to private ownership, with another 99,019 units in the process of conversion. Under Trump and Carson’s plans there will be thousands more people losing their housing every week.
In place of these proposed housing cuts, these men are likely going to be dangling money in front of Denver IF they agree to use it on things like “transformational campuses” (aka concentration camps), policing, or other types of individual behavior focused facilities.
This is what happened in LA. In LA not long after Marbut and Carson’s visit, steps are being taken to create “involuntary concentration camp style” facilities far out of LA to “put” homeless people, and massive sweeps have just been waged on Skid Row. We cannot let the same thing happen here in Denver!@#
Warehousing human’s through various forms of force has been unequivocally deemed WRONG in the past and that has not changed.
We cannot sit back silently as these tyrants meet to plan furthering the war on our housing, survival, and freedom.
Join us in the following actions:
Contact Mayor Hancock and tell him you will not stand for him meeting Marbut or Carson! Tell him human beings cannot be forced into warehouse-like concentration camps. Tell him public low-income housing is a right not a luxury and he must fight Carson’s proposed public housing cuts. Tell him not to take money with unjust strings attached. Call 720-865-9000
Protest this Meeting in person on February 21st 12noon at City Hall. Stay tuned for details on place and time.
Read three attachments on Robert Marbut and on Ben Carson’s HUD Cuts.
Today, Judge Barajas, a Denver County Court Judge, ruled the Denver Camping Ban unconstitutional based on 8th amendment violation of “cruel and unusual punishment.” The judge found that homeless people, like Jerry Burton whose ticket led this case, cannot be criminalize for using cover to try and survive outside when they have no other option. The judge recognized the insurmountable limits of the shelter system including hours or access, people who are banned, and all different reasons shelters are not an option for people. Human beings cannot be forced into shelter like jail, and this ruling shows any reasonable person can understand the mere existence of a space in a shelter does not make that a viable or livable option for someone to be. Hence criminalizing people for being poor with no home and surviving on the streets is cruel and unconstitutional.
This ruling comes only days after the Supreme Court let stand the 9th circuit court ruling that camping bans are unconstitutional on similar grounds.
The local ruling of Judge Barajas does not in itself repeal the unconstitutional Camping Ban. It finds the law unconstitutional and dismisses Jerry Burton’s case. An actual repeal requires action either from a higher court or from Denver City Council.
Denver City Council should act immediately under this ruling to align the city law with the constitution and repeal the Unauthorized Camping Ban!!! To continue to keep this law on the books is not only unconstitutional, it puts the city at risk of spending millions more dollars appealing this ruling to a higher court just to get the same ruling – you can’t criminalize people for survival.
Message to Denver City Council: Act NOW and repeal this UNCONSTITUTIONAL law. Direct Denver police to stop enforcing this unconstitutional law by getting the law off the books NOW.
This ruling makes it ever more clear that cities only option to “solving” homelessness is creating attainable housing. Sweeping people out of sight will not be an option any more.
This case was led by attorney Andrew McNalty of Kilmore, Lane, and Newman. Thanks for all of his hard work on this critical case!!
Today, Tuesday July 23rd, the city set out police and public works again to sweep communities with no notice in violation of the pending lawsuit settlement. A community of about 50 plus that has been staying outside the Blair Caldwell Library and sounding areas for months was swept this morning, was displaced and some people’s property taken this morning with no notice whatsoever. This community has been staying in the area, being woken by police in the morning and dropping their tents but otherwise most allow to stay without camping ban enforcement, for months and out of no where this morning around 10am police and public works forced the community to pack up all their belongings and took the property of anyone who was not present at that moment. Those whose property was taken had no way of knowing today the city would come with such force and take their property. When they return from work they will find they have nothing. One woman, a real leader figure in the camp, was given a written notice this morning but the notice was specifically the one for the triangle area! It was a notice not even applicable to the area this community stays which would require 7 days (or at the minimum 48hr) notice attached to each person’s property.
Wrong Notice Another community of about 10 people just down the street was also swept with no notice. The community that was swept yesterday by 21st and Stout moved across the street, down the street, and to other near by locations – some of which were swept again today. Now even more people without housing are scattered around the city, without property, separated from their communities. We need services – bathrooms, trash cans, showers, hand washing stations – not sweeps.
by Denver Homeless Out Loud in collaboration with other social justice organizations.
Homelessness was the foremost issue discussed during the 2019 Denver municipal election season. Candidates made many promises to address the homelessness crisis during their campaigns. On the 2019 ballot was Initiated Ordinance 300, “Right to Survive,” which every municipal candidate weighed in on. The massive opposition to Right to Survive boasted “We Can do Better.” Well, now it’s time to prove: indeed, we can do better. Now is the time to fulfil the promises to meaningfully address and work towards solving the crisis of mass homelessness in the City and County of Denver, Colorado (The City).
Denver’s Mayor and City Council often refer to their “first 100-day” action plans. What follows is our 100-day action plan regarding homelessness in Denver. This plan presents an overview of the scope of the need, solutions to meet that need, and immediate action steps the Mayor and City Council should take in the first 100 days after taking their oaths of office on July 15, 2019. While it is in places detailed, this document is not an exhaustive analysis or comprehensive plan, but instead a snapshot of need, opportunity, and necessary immediate action. Our plan is organized around three areas: I. Rights, Not Slights; II. Services, Not Sweeps; and III. Housing, Not Warehousing.
The Need for Housing in Denver, Colorado:
The City and County of Denver approximates a shortage of 26,000 low-income units for low income people in Denver. The Mayor’s Five Year Housing plan aims to create 2,000 low income units by 2023. That’s only 7.6% of the stated need. As if that short-fall not bad enough, in reality between 2015-2017 the City only created 199 units of 0-30% area median income (AMI) housing for a universe of 31,854 renter households in the 0-30% AMI category plus thousands of homeless residents. That is 0.6% of the need. Based on its own date, it is clear that there is a disconnect between what Denver says and what they actually do.
Roughly 60% of people experiencing homelessness in Denver are either working or have income through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or disability-based government income. A full-time minimum-wage Colorado worker earns only $1,316.80 per month before taxes. That worker would need to work at least 127.21 hours per week, four weeks per month to afford an average-rate apartment within ten miles of Denver, Colorado. Someone on disability typically receives $770.00 per month. On that income, there is essentially no housing on the market in Denver that a person could afford and have any money left for food, travel, or basic needs.
The 2018 Point-In-Time (PIT) one day survey of homelessness in Denver counted at least 3,445 people experiencing homelessness in Denver. This is a massive undercount. More accurate counts consider that at least 1,762 Denver Public School children were homeless in the 2017-2018 school year, according to state data. At least 900 homeless people visit St. Francis Center, a refuge providing services to people experiencing homelessness, each day. What’s more, the extreme undercount does not consider the thousands of people couch surfing at a friends or staying with family, hopping between motels, or sleeping in their cars every night. When considering all the known parameters of homelessness, we know there are at least 10,000 people living without a home in Denver.
So why not just put all these people in homeless shelters? Isn’t that where homeless people are supposed to live? Two answers:
For starters, Math.
If you temporarily suspend the reality of at least 10,000 neighbors experiencing homelessness and consider only the 3,445 people who the City and County of Denver acknowledges are homeless, for those 3,445 people: there are fewer than 2,000 total spaces at Denver’s homeless shelters. The City says there are an average of 150 open mats on shelter floors. The PIT counted 609 unsheltered homeless people. So at least 459 people are without a shelter option every day. These numbers don’t even reflect the dearth of accessible shelters.
Critically, there are no shelters to accommodate people who work evenings/nights and need uninterrupted sleep during the day. There are not adequate shelters that allow people who require personal care to have their caregivers come in and assist. There are not shelters with adequate equipment and accommodations for people with physical disabilities such as guaranteed sleeping place near an electrical outlet for battery operated wheelchairs, chair lifts, roll-in showers, etc. Moreover, people with physical disabilities may need to dress/undress in bed and have no way to do this in private. There are limited shelters that allows service animals…Examples abound: there are not enough shelters to accommodate, and the inadequacies for people requiring accessibility options are even more limited.
More importantly, Reality.
In reality: shelters are NOT a viable, healthy, safe, or even possible option for many people. Shelters are often extremely overcrowded and noisy, with conditions leading to disease, violence, and pests. Space is often inaccessible to people with physical and other disabilities. Shelters can be hostile and discriminatory to trans or gender-nonconforming people. Shelter hours–often requiring people to leave very early in the morning, and to wait in a long line for a bed in the evening–are often incompatible with people’s work schedules. Shelters regularly force separation from loved ones and pets/service animals. Understandably, for these and many more reasons…many people prefer the freedom to come and go as needed rather than be effectively trapped in a shelter.
So, if not to shelters, where are people without homes supposed to go?
Often, thousands of homeless people in Denver are left with no options except to sleep outside, in abandoned buildings, or on buses, etc. Surviving outside without a house requires securing protection from extreme weather. It also requires finding protection from abusers who prey upon vulnerable people. And, now more than ever, being homeless requires seeking protection from police who are paid by the City to disrupt sleep, to displace people, and to steal their only belongings.
The current “camping ban” (truly a survival ban) ordinance, passed on a 9 to 4 vote by the Denver City Council in 2012, makes it illegal to use “blankets, or any form of cover or protection from the elements other than clothing” anywhere in the city of Denver [38.86.2]. Many people claim this law is not enforced; unfortunately, people experiencing homelessness in Denver know first-hand that the ban is very much enforced and used to harass them. Police records show that in 2017 alone, some 4,647 people were approached by police for violating the camping ban and forced to “move along.”
What does “move along” even mean?
In practice, “moving along” means countless sleepless nights, blankets being confiscated in the middle of cold nights, being forced to separate from friends and family, being put at risk of rape, assault, and death. Very rarely can anyone told to do so, actually “move along” into shelters, much less housing.
The City has also had a practice, as confirmed by a federal judge in the class action case Lyall v. City of Denver [16-2155], of sweeping away homeless people and their property with no notice and no way for affected people to retrieve their property. A settlement has been agreed on in Lyall, scheduled for finalization by the court in September 2019, but the City has not yet shown a commitment to even respect the agreement they made: they continue to sweep without proper notice.
The City references health and safety concerns as a need for sweeping away people and entire communities, yet does nothing to address the health and safety needs of people experiencing homelessness. The basic sanitation needs for bathrooms, showers, and trash services are denied with statement from the Mayor such as, “We don’t want to attract permanent homelessness by putting in porta potties.” This means hundreds of homeless people are chased from one place to the next, their property stolen, and their basic sanitation needs never met. Then, these displaced people are blamed for unsanitary conditions caused by the City’s policies.
So then, if not shelters, and if we can’t “move along”, what must we do?
We, poor and homeless people who suffer the daily effects of policies written without us and against us, along with our allies who believe that the way people experiencing homelessness in Denver are treated is wrong, must lead our government on what actions must be taken now. Policy must be directed by directly affected people. We present this 100-day action plan to give Denver’s Mayor and City Council direction – both for the long term and for immediate action in these next 100 days from July 15, 2019 to October 22, 2019 .
Rights, Not Slights.
–What we really need–
Repeal of Survival Ban.
The “Urban Camping Ban” (better called survival ban) law makes it illegal to use “blankets, or any form of cover or protection from the elements other than clothing” anywhere in the city of Denver. We must end this inhumane, ineffective, expensive, unconstitutional law now and decriminalize homelessness in Denver.
Repeal Sit/Lie Law.
The “Sit/Lie Law” [38-86.2], passed in 2005, making it illegal to “sit or lie on the sidewalk or any non-designated seating area,” on 16th Street Mall and the blocks on either side of 16th St. Like the survival ban, this law names homeless people as the primary violators of this law, which police records of enforcement confirm. The effect of this law on many homeless disabled people in particular, is that they cannot be on the mall without facing criminalization as they must sit and rest at some point. We must end this cruel and discriminatory law.
Rights in Shelters.
The current emergency shelter system is primarily run by religious groups and non-profit corporations. While these groups may have good intent to provide needed shelter, the shelter industry does not respect the rights of shelter users for safe, clean environments, privacy, protection of their belongings, and dignified treatment. There is little or no due process in shelters, there are arbitrary rules, people can be kicked out for mild violations. The process to obtain shelter beds is onerous and can be a full time job. Even shelter providers admit to continual issues with bed bugs. Shelters must be required to uphold standards to protect our human and constitutional rights.
ADA Access at Shelters.
A top priority of shelter revisions must be a full independent, client-lead assessment of accessibility for people with various disabilities. This assessment must lead to fixing all issues of inaccessibility found, including making shelters compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). All homeless service providers should have an easy to find, easy to understand, fair process for clients to request reasonable modifications. Staff at all homeless service corporations should be required to have training in disability cultural competency and ADA.
The City must expeditiously amend service provider contracts to require shelter employees to be trained in trauma-informed service delivery. In collaboration with organizations run by people experiencing homelessness and civil rights organizations that support them, a set of standards and criteria for employees of shelter. Currently, anyone who has only had a customer service job at a convenience store can work at most shelters.
Further, the city must develop and implement (with involvement of people who use these services) a due process system for clients of all homeless services providers. This must include at a minimum a grievance and appeal system. Any termination of services must have appeal rights. A client run appeals board is advised. The assessment should be done by someone with ADA training that is approved by a committee of people who experience homelessness or an organization run by people that experience homelessness.
Stop Police Harassment.
Police records and jail records show the massive disparity of police enforcement against homeless people to non-homeless people. If you are homeless (or perceived to be homeless) in Denver you are far more likely to get stopped by police, asked for identification, questioned, ticketed, or arrested. If you are homeless and Black or Brown, you are even more likely to have police contact. If you are Native American and homeless in Denver you are the most likely to have police contact ending in arrest. These disproportionate police contacts are the manifestation of discrimination throughout the (in-) justice system. This behavior by city officials causes additional undue stress, fear, distrust of police, cycles in jail, and even abuse or death by police. City and police harassment of homeless people must stop. Enforcement of laws should not be driven by complaints from the public, who often just don’t want to see poverty in their neighborhoods. It is unconstitutional for police to have a practice of asking for ID from people who are not breaking any laws. There must be accountability for police who demand identification from people not breaking any law.
Homelessness as a Protected Class.
Discrimination against people due to homelessness leads to inability to get jobs, loss of jobs, inability to get housing, loss of one’s own children, being turned away from businesses, police abuse, murder of homeless people, and on and on… We must recognize this discrimination as wrong and protect against discrimination based on housing status by naming people who are homeless as a protected class.
Again and again courts have found laws targeting people who are homeless or criminalizing necessary acts of survival for homeless people unconstitutional. Anti-homeless laws have been found in violation of the 1st, 4th, 8th, and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. We must protect these rights already named in the U.S. Constitution.
–What the Mayor can do in 100 days–
The Mayor should immediately act to end the discriminatory police practice of asking for ID from people who are not breaking any laws.
The Mayor should immediately act to allocate funding in the city budget for community driven mental and medical health alternatives to police interactions with homeless people. Specifically, a crisis response team comprised of mental and physical health professionals, not police.
The Mayor should act to allocate funding to bring shelters up to ADA standards as determined by the assessment mentioned earlier.
–What City Council can do in 100 days–
City Council should immediately act to decriminalize homelessness by repealing the survival ban [camping ban ordinance (DRMC 38-86.3)].
City Council should act immediately to address the inaccessibility of shelters by requiring and funding a full independent, assessment of accessibility for people with disabilities.
Services, Not Sweeps.
–What we really need–
Immediately implement the Lyall v. City of Denver Settlement to protect property rights of all residents of Denver, regardless of whether or not they have a home.
For three years the city has been fighting a class action lawsuit against them for seizing homeless people’s property without due process in sweeps. This case, Lyall vs City of Denver reached a settlement agreement in March 2019, but it still awaits final ruling by the judge on September 20th 2019.
However, the city can implement the agreement’s provisions without a court order. The settlement agreement does a number of things, but most importantly, in summary, it requires the city give at least 48 hours to 7 days (depending on the size of the encampment) notice attached to the person’s property before they can remove any property. Since this settlement was agreed to, the city has violated these rights and taken property without proper notice. If this right to proper notice is not provided by the city after the judge rules this into law, they can be taken back to court for violating these rights. None of us want that. The city, under court mandate, must follow these processes to protect people’s right to their property and due process.
Eliminate complaint-based enforcement.
By cleaning at regular times instead of doing massive sweeps based on complaints, the city can minimize the taking of homeless people’s property. All camps should be given the needed trash receptacles and bathroom facilities to maintain a clean space, rather than being evicted and/or forced to live in a situation where there is trash, feces and urine.
Medical and mental health workers instead of cops.
Police should not be responsible for cleaning encampments. This is a job for cleaning crews. Police presence turns what should be a routine clean up into an enforcement action leading to criminalization of survival, trauma, tickets, and arrest. In order to do the job of cleaning and use that stressful time to support folks on the streets who are struggling, medical and mental health professionals should be sent out with the cleaning crews without police.
This should be modeled similarly to the CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) model in Eugene, OR, which utilizes a response team comprised of a mental health responder and a medic to answer calls through the 911 dispatch system as well as a separate emergency number specific to the program. The model responds to up to 20% of emergency calls in Eugene. Funding should be redirected from current cost of sweeps to these non-police crisis response teams.
Infrastructural pieces relevant to non-police crisis response.
The response model of CAHOOTS has had its tremendous impact because of the community awareness, connection, and involvement in the program as well as the additional infrastructural pieces in Eugene that center services with dignity such as a sobering clinic, respite clinic, and immediate temporary shelter. These are components that must be created and supported with community involvement in coordination with the launch of a non-police crisis response team. Additional community-driven mental health facilities should be created with the motive that treatment facilities should not act like or look like replicated jail cells.
The solution to trash is trash cans and trash can servicing, not displacement of homeless people. We cannot continue to treat homeless people like trash by sweeping people from place to place, rather than simply maintaining basic trash services where people are staying outside. Trash cans and regular servicing of those cans should be in public places near every encampment.
Expand Triangle Works (or “sweep trash not people”) cleaning program.
For the past few months a crew of five people who are homeless have been hired through Bayaud Enterprises and made up a cleaning crew, called Triangle Works. They have been cleaning the streets near Triangle park where many homeless people stay outside. This cleaning crew has had a great impact on the lives of those hired and on providing needed trash services to homeless encampments in this neighborhood. This crew should be expanded with funding from the city to clean more regularly and to include more neighborhoods. The result will be more people who are homeless getting employment.
In order to properly contain sharps, such as needles, sharps boxes should be installed in public places to ensure safe disposal. More trash crews, such as Triangle Works, should also carry sharps containers with them and with more crew hours can better assist in this disposal.
The solution to poop and pee outside is accessible public bathrooms. Currently there are no accessible public bathrooms open 24/7 in Denver and the few public bathrooms that do exist are only open limited hours of the day. Ultimately, the people of Denver, especially people without housing or money, have no place to go to the bathroom. If we actually want to address the health and safety of people without housing and the broader community, porta potties with handwashing, or permanent bathrooms, should be placed near every encampment, and high foot traffic area in the city. Furthermore, porta potties should be serviced regularly so they don’t overflow or stink. These bathrooms should include options accessible to people who can’t use small units.
People living without housing in Denver have to walk long distances or wait in long lines to get a shower, or more often than not go without showers. This extreme lack of necessary hygiene leaves people unhealthy, less able to keep and hold jobs, and has countless other hurtful effects on the homeless community. The city should help fund the creation of trucks with showers (such as the Live Well showers run by a church in Denver now). These shower trucks should be brought to encampment areas on a regular basis. These should be ADA accessible or have ADA accessible option nearby.
Similarly, people living without housing in Denver have to walk long distances, wait in long lines, or pay money people don’t have to do laundry. More often than not homeless people are simply unable to do laundry. This lack of necessary hygiene leaves people unhealthy, less able to keep and hold jobs, and has countless other hurtful effects on the community. The city should help fund the creation of more laundry trucks (such as the two currently run by Bayaud now). These Laundry trucks should be brought to encampment areas including along the rivers on a regular basis.
Recreation Center Access.
The city of Denver has public recreation centers in many areas of the City. These centers have showers and bathrooms already in them. If these centers were accessible to people who are homeless, it would make a significant dent in addressing hygiene needs without any needed new construction. In addition to the changes to the current PLAY pass for poor people which were agreed on in the class action settlement, the cost of these passes should be waived for people with no income in enabling them access to the showers and bathrooms. Recreation center access positive social supports.
24/7 Lockers at Accessible Locations.
When you are living without housing, you have nowhere to store personal belongings while going to a job or appointment or whatnot. In addition to the locker storage facility agreed on in the class action lawsuit settlement, lockers which are accessible 24/7 in public places should be funded and permitted by the city and located around the City. Furthermore, the permitting process for private businesses to install small numbers of lockers on their property should be waived or amended.
–What the Mayor can do in 100 days–
The Mayor should direct the police, public works, and other agencies to follow the lawsuit settlement. This means always – not just when it is convenient.
The Mayor should immediately re-direct city budget away from police to a non-police crisis response model.
The Mayor should immediately direct Public Works to install and service trash cans near every encampment. He should budget for and fund porta potties near every encampment.
The Mayor should immediately budget for and fund an expansion of the Triangle Works program which employs people experiencing homelessness to do trash services on the streets.
–What City Council can do in 100 days–
The City Council should immediately move to support the creation of a non-police crisis response team to replace police presence in sweeps and instances of crisis and conflict in Denver.
The City Council should immediately act to support policies that replace sweeps with trash services, bathrooms, and basic needs.
Housing, Not Warehousing.
–What we really need–
Housing, not shelters.
Shelters are not housing. They function as are warehouses to keep poor people out of sight. Given the fact that housing for the poor is all but non-existent it is great there is this option for some, but we cannot continue to treat shelters as a housing option. Real housing has space for all of a person’s basic needs, for privacy, and for personal autonomy. City Council should end the practice of treating shelters as a “solution to homelessness” and invest instead in actual housing.
Housing can even be more economical than many shelters. When a proposal comes to invest in expanding or improving shelters, those dollars should at least be matched for housing – if not simply redirected to housing instead. Housing should be the long term solution, with autonomy for a setting of your choice. This means no limits on when you can come and go,
what you can bring with you, what you wear, who your support systems are, how you identify,
and how you choose to use the space.
Commit funding to 0-30% AMI Housing.
$30,000,000 dollars for “affordable” housing is one drop in an ocean of need. Much less, considering the half of that budget for “affordable” housing is for 40% – 100% AMI. Until the city begins to commit dollars in the billions to actual public and low-income housing, we will continue to be a city with thousands of people without housing. The budget should shift money from police, jails, development subsidies for the rich, BIDs, and the like into low-income housing. The city should increase the budget for 0-30% AMI housing to at least $60M in 2020, with plans to increase yearly.
Land and Buildings
As long as the land still vacant or unused in Denver continues to be used by for-profit developers for projects that only benefit the rich we will not address our low-income housing crisis. City, or quasi-city, owned land should be identified around the city and dedicated to low-income (0-30%AMI) housing projects. The city should also buy private land and transfer ownership to non-profits or community land trusts who will build 0-30% AMI housing.
Buy old hotels.
A number of old hotels have been condemned or are on the verge of being condemned in Denver. The city should buy these hotels, insulate, renovate and convert them into low-income (0-30%) housing.
Convert Dog Parks.
Denver has many dog parks. This is more places for dogs to play, rest, and poop than the city has places for people who are homeless to rest. At least half of the land on each of these dog parks should be converted into tent dwelling spaces, tiny home dwelling, or full scale low-income housing.
City Partnership with Churches for Land.
The City should partner with churches by helping fund and permit low-income housing on church land.
Community Land Trusts for low income housing.
The land is not ours to own, much less make a profit off of. Yet the privatization of land for speculation and profit making is ever further displacing people from homes and community. By putting land in the control of the community, and enabling the community to cap housing costs and stop speculatory market pricing, community land trusts enable housing to be more affordable for lower-income people and stop displacement of lower-income residents. City Council should support shifting land into community-led land trusts.
Codes and Permitting
Wave Permits for Churches, Nonprofits, or any land owner to host tent communities.
The current city permitting options hosting people to live on one’s private church, non-profit, or other private land is not clear and creates almost impossible barriers to communities stepping up to provide space of people without housing. Following cases from around the country, the city should wave any permitting requirements for churches, non-profits, or land owners who wish to host people in tent communities with bathrooms on their own property. The city should not intervene in these groups using their own land to follow their mission and beliefs.
The city should support all kinds of private dwelling at 0-30% – tents, tiny homes, apartments, single homes, etc. We need structures, including tents, to meet the need more quickly while we wait for more high quality longer-term construction. While tiny homes are extremely quick and cheap to build, even these take more time when people could be living safer in a tent village than in the shelters or on the streets. The city should be moving forward simultaneously with quick housing options including both tents and tiny homes, while also building apartments, single family homes, and other housing types. Tents or tiny homes are not the “housing solution” but they are especially quick and cheap to build – while also maintaining basic privacy, dignity, and autonomy. These options should be treated as quick crisis-required options, while construction on higher quality housing is taking place.
Tiny Home Village in every City Council district.
When city council was voting on moving the Beloved Community Tiny Home Village to Globeville, many council people stated that every council district should have a tiny home village. Land should be identified in each council district immediately to build a village in each district.
The city should support changing the zoning for group living to enable more unrelated adults to share housing, thus lowering the cost of living.
No City funded deals for upper income housing. Require any mixed income housing developments to have fifty percent 0-30% tenants. Permit only lower income housing.
Almost all of the new development in Denver is for upper income people (80% AMI and above). “Mixed income” developments only result in a token number of units for low or extremely low income residents. These units are often smaller than the other units and can not accommodate a family needing several bedrooms. While almost all of this development is done by private developers, the city has a say in permitting these developments. The city should use its power to vote against high income developments informing the developers they will only vote for the permit, contract, or zoning change if the development includes low-income (30-50% AMI) and extremely low income (0-30% AMI) housing.
No opt out option for building low income housing.
The current Inclusionary Housing Ordinance (IHO) has an option for developers to “buy out” of the affordability requirement. Many developers take this option, meaning they put in massive developments with no housing under 60% AMI. Furthermore, the money from these “buy outs” is supposed to go into affordable housing, but records of this are not clear or public. City Council should end this “buy out” option and require all development following the IHO include actual low-income housing, no “buy outs” and not just 60%, 80%, or 120% AMI units.
Housing for all abilities 0-30%.
At least 40% of those homeless in Denver have a disability. Much of Denver’s housing is still not ADA accessible, leaving people even more stuck in homelessness. Low-income housing developments should be built to ADA standards, and older housing should be brought to ADA standards. Meeting federal fair housing act amendments standards allows housing to accommodate the residents as they age.
DHA low-income housing expanded.
Denver Housing Authority’s mission is to create low-income housing and they do provide the most low-income housing in the city. They are the quasi city owner of much inner city land. However, they have been increasingly deviating from that mission by selling off their land to private developers to build market rate housing or office space. DHA should be required to follow their mission and use their land only for low-income housing. Additionally, DHA housing vouchers provide much of the most flexible low-income housing options and these vouchers should be expanded with city money stepping in to fund more vouchers.
Accordingly, DHA should take steps to get more landlords to accept low-income vouchers, in particular ensuring compliance with the source of income anti-discriminalition bill passed last year. One of the reasons that landlords may not choose to accept housing vouchers is there is no provision of a damage deposit. Landlords are left holding the bag when voucher tenants move out. If damage deposits could be funded as part of the city-sponsored vouchers, more landlords might be willing to participate in the program.
City should not follow proposed HUD housing guidelines.
Under the control of President Trump and Ben Carson, HUD has been pushing for discriminatory policies including immigrant family seperation, discrimination against transgender people, and raising of rents. The city of Denver should intervene in these policies and refuse to follow them.
Some subsidized housing around the country has recently taken a “crime free” policy that leads to residents being evicted for low-level “crimes.” These policies play out with massive racist outcomes. Denver should refuse to use or support housing with such policies.
Independent housing without required services – unconditional housing options.
Many subsidized housing projects in Denver have extensive requirements that force tenants to agree to “services: whether or not the services that are desired or helpful. If the resident does not accept these services, the resident cannot live there. While some services help some individuals it is inappropriate to tie required services to housing. One’s landlord already has enough power, allowing them access to any information about social services dramatically increases the power imbalance. People need housing that enables them to live independent lives with needed supports, but not controlled by rigorous rules and service requirements. The city should support housing that meets these standards and promotes services that are voluntary based on an individual’s need.
Housing Rights and System Change
Right to Housing.
Housing is a human right. Yet since the 1990’s the federal government declared it is not the governments’ responsibility to ensure all have housing. We have enough housing for all those without to have housing, yet we have thousands without housing in Denver. Until we commit as a society to treat housing as a human right, we will continue to create token housing, temporary vouchers, and things here and there that never come close to meeting the need. The City Council should take this basic step of admitting the actual need and making plans to meet the need – even if there isn’t the budget or policies needed to meet the actual need right away.
Renters in Denver have few rights to protect them from un-due eviction, livability standards, and the like. New laws were passed at the state level this year to help protect renters and these laws should be followed and promoted in Denver. Furthermore, they should be expanded by ___. They should also add to the Source of Income protection bill to ban landlords from requiring people have proof of income three times the rent even when they have a voucher paying their rent.
Market forces make rents continue to rise as housing is bought and sold as a commodity. Rent control is one method to help cap that constant rise in rent. Currently state law creates barriers for Denver enacting rent control. Denver city officials should step up to support this change at the state capitol.
Focus on ending market based housing, not just vouchers.
Ultimately, vouchers are not the answer to making housing attainable for low-income people. As long as market forces continue to raise rents, vouchers will also have to compete in the market and make it harder and harder to remain at attainable prices. The city should be working to end these forces of market profit by prioritizing social housing, rent controls, community land trusts, and other means.
Countries around the world who treat housing as a responsibility of the government, not a commodity to be run by the private sector, have almost no one without housing in their cities. We in Denver should be shifting in this direction – building social housing with public money.
–What the Mayor can do in 100 days–
The Mayor should immediately commit to budgeting to fundthe actual housing need for individuals, couples and families who are homeless – even if the full budget cannot be immediately met. Begin by budgeting $60M for 0-30% AMI housing in 2020, at least half of which would be specifically for people experiencing homelessness. Plan to expand funding yearly.
The Mayor should use executive authority to ensure Churches, Nonprofits, or land owners have clear automatic permission, without permit processes, to host tent communities with bathrooms for people without housing.
–What City Council can do in 100 days–
The City Council should immediately demand the Mayor increase the 2020 budget for 0-30% AMI housing to 60M.
The City Council should immediately work with the city and community partners to identify locations in their district to create at least 100 units 0-30% AMI housing for people coming from homelessness in 2020 or before.
It is time to get going. There is work to be done…