Denver Post Opinion
A proposed Denver city ordinance banning unauthorized "camping" would criminalize survival activities for persons experiencing homelessness. This would essentially criminalize the status of being homeless even though there are no adequate or appropriate alternatives for them.
As someone who has been working for 26 years to end homelessness in Colorado, I strongly believe that no person should have to live on the streets of Denver to survive. We share the goal of the city and business community to reduce homelessness on our streets. Yet we must urge our leaders to avoid policies that would effectively criminalize homelessness.
City officials say it is inhumane to allow homeless persons to sleep outside. We agree.
However, it is even more inhumane to make it illegal while acknowledging that there is not sufficient shelter or housing alternatives.
There is a significant lack of adequate emergency shelter to meet the needs of our citizens in Denver, such that tonight, after every shelter bed in the city is full, there will be hundreds of men and women sleeping on the streets, in their cars, or in abandoned buildings.
Compounding the problem is the lack of health, mental health, and substance abuse treatment services for those experiencing homelessness, which creates multiple barriers to housing and employment. Last year, more than 2,000 individuals who are homeless and mentally ill in Denver were on the waiting list for mental health services at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless' Stout Street Clinic due to lack of capacity to serve them. There is also an extreme lack of supportive housing and affordable housing for those in need.
We believe Denver's proposed ordinance would not only be unfair and shortsighted, it would also be counterproductive. It would force those without shelter further into our neighborhoods and further out of sight. This would make outreach and engagement even more difficult. It would also negatively impact the quality of life in our neighborhoods as people without shelter would be hiding in alleys, dumpsters and cars throughout the city.
Equally important, this proposed ordinance would divert our efforts from fighting to end homelessness to fighting efforts to criminalize homelessness.
While there has been an increase in homelessness over the past two years due to the recession, economic dislocation, and budget cuts at the federal, state and local level, we have been successful in helping thousands of individuals and families move from the shelters and the streets into housing and employment.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Thursday, April 05, 2012
Denver Post Opinion