The Denver Post
Denver has spent nearly $60 million in the past seven years to end homelessness. Yet even with that massive effort, there are increasing numbers of people on the street.
That dynamic is what led city officials to consider joining the ranks of many cities across the United States that have banned camping — and ignited the vigorous debate over whether such a move "criminalizes" homelessness.
From Portland, Ore., to Sacramento, Calif., Aspen to Moab, homeless camping has been banned in various forms with ordinances that have withstood myriad legal challenges, according to Denver Assistant City Attorney David Broadwell.
On the Front Range, cities have had camping bans for years, including Fort Collins,
The $58 million in federal grants, contributions from businesses and individuals, and city and state money has fueled Denver's Road Home — the city's seven-year effort to end homelessness. The program cites successes: 2,662 new housing units, linking 5,800 people to job training and employment, preventing 5,700 families and individuals from becoming homeless and mentoring 1,000 seniors and families out of homelessness.
But the city's streets over the past year have filled with homeless people who are allowed to sleep on public rights of way. Last summer as many as 200 people were counted sleeping on the 16th Street Mall, and protesters from the Occupy Denver movement have made the sidewalks near Civic Center park a permanent encampment.
In an effort to deal with the problem, the city is now looking at an ordinance that would give police the right to oust those campers.
Homeless advocates across Colorado say the camping ban criminalizes homelessness.
Business and civic leaders say the ban will provoke homeless people to get help and also clear the downtown area of people sleeping on the streets at night.
But whether other cities' anti-camping laws have been successful at helping people get off the streets and into housing depends on whom you ask.
"It has been an absolute success," said Robert Holmes, director of Homeward Pikes Peak, a nonprofit working to end homelessness in Colorado Springs that toughened its urban camping ban in 2010.
"It has not changed a thing in Boulder," said David B. Harrison, an attorney who has represented homeless campers in court over the past two years.
Ban in Colorado Springs
In 2009, the banks of Fountain Creek and Monument Creek in Colorado Springs began filling with homeless people, encouraged by the city's assumption that its camping ban was too vague to be enforced.
At one point, more than 600 homeless campers were counted in the city. The Interstate 25 corridor became lined with blue tarps in a massive tent city.