In a press conference held outside of city hall just before last night’s city council meeting, Laura Avant, an organizer with Occupy Denver said that it was time to end the war on the homeless. She showed a petition that had 13,600 signatures from across the nation who affirmed their support for repeal of Denver’s Urban Camping Ban adopted by city council in May of 2012.
“This has raised the moral conscience of people across the globe,” Marcus Hyde who organizes with the homeless advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL) talked about the exposure the group’s advocacy has attracted, “The federal government condemned Denver’s laws of criminalization.” He referred to an August 2015 filing by the US Department of Justice that raised the issue of criminalizing sleeping in public spaces as a violation of the Eighth Amendment regarding cruel and unusual punishment, “And we have brothers and sisters in Portland and California and all over this country. The United Nations looked into our camping ban report. The United Nations condemned the US government.” The United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review in May gave member countries the opportunity to evaluate and criticize the United States which member countries did regarding laws that criminalize the act of residents’ exercising basic human needs.
Therese Howard organizer with DHOL refuted the claim by Denver Police that there have been no arrests for the ban drawing from her own experience working with those living outside and a recent review, “We know now from a law school that we’re working with on a research report on criminalization of homelessness. In 2014 alone, there were fifteen arrests for the camping ban. That’s just arrests. We’re still waiting for the data on ‘move ons’ (when police order an individual to move out of a public area) and we’re still waiting for the data on tickets. But if you’re hearing anybody say that there has not been any arrests for the camping ban, that’s false. There’s numbers now out to prove that.”
Saying that city council has continuously refused to add the topic of the ban to the agenda, the group- including those who are currently living outside- took the list of signatures and their message to council to speak during public comment section, thereby taking over the meeting. Laura Avant handed the signatures to Council President Chris Herndon who then called a recess despite having just returned from one. Herndon along with council members Kendra Black and Mary Beth Susman followed Herndon out of the room but the rest of Council remained and listened to the advocates.
“Before you go, there are 13,600 signatures and a speech wanting you to repeal the Urban Camping Ban,” Avant said, thereby stopping the meeting. Applause from the audience took over the room as well when activists standing in front of council seats continued, “You are hurting people in this community!”
Another continued, “Shelter. That’s all we’re really asking for. We’re not asking for the moon and the skies. Basic human rights. That’s all we’re really asking for. Thank you.”
Public comment was also taken regarding the mayor’s proposed budget for additional money to fund Denver Police. Most who spoke opposed the mayor’s request.