Monday, October 18, 2021
Chief Communications and Public Policy Officer
Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
Denver—Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) stands in opposition to Denver’s initiated ordinance 303. The very misleading “Let’s Do Better” initiative claims to accelerate enforcement of the City’s ban on unauthorized camping. The proponents of the measure are using scare tactics and false promises to exploit the housing and homelessness crises facing our city and the measure could frustrate the work Denver is doing to begin recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. The initiative falsely promises a quick solution to street homelessness by doing the following:
- Requiring enforcement of the camping ban within 72-hours of a resident’s complaint,
- Allowing residents to take legal action against the City if the action is not taken within 72-hours, and
- Permitting the creation of up to four sanctioned camping sites.
These measures falsely create an expectation that the City of Denver cannot meet. Denver is subject to federal court orders limiting the action that can be taken to dismantle encampments. Denver is required to give seven days’ notice to people living in encampments prior to enforcement of the camping ban, or a “sweep,” to protect their constitutional rights. The mandate that camps be swept within three days violates this standard and puts the City in a legal bind. The initiative makes the City liable to legal action whether it acts within the 72-hour window or not, and taxpayers will pay for these legal battles.
The initiative language also suggests that it gives the City new authority to establish additional sanctioned camping sites. This is misleading, as Denver City Council already has the power to change zoning standards to allow any number of sanctioned sites, or Safe Outdoor Spaces (SOS). The challenge the City faces is not legality of these sites, but the limited amount of available and appropriate land and strained resources to provide the necessary facilities like restrooms, lighting, security, and case management. This initiative does not allocate any additional resources for the operation of these potential sites nor does it identify any potential locations or land to be used for them. Setting up more sanctioned camping sites is already a high priority for Denver policymakers. The 2022 proposed budget includes $4.3 million to support alternatives to traditional shelter such as Safe Outdoor Spaces, Safe Outdoor Parking, and tiny home villages. Functionally, this initiative limits the number of sanctioned sites to four and fails to provide resources for their creation. This initiative would not bring the City any closer to meeting the enormous housing and shelter needs of the community of people experiencing homelessness.
Initiated ordinance 303 also undermines the important work of homeless service providers. While we believe that no person should have to live on the streets, and we share the goals of the City and business community to reduce street homelessness, broadening the criminalization of people experiencing homelessness is not the answer. Increased criminalization leads to disrupted acts of survival like getting rest, poor health outcomes including death from exposure when survival gear is confiscated during sweeps, and broken relationships with service providers working to connect people with housing and healthcare. Criminalization of homelessness is unproductive and harmful and perpetuates the cycle of poverty, reduces the ability of those impacted to access services and housing, and increases pressure on the already strained homeless response system.
CCH joins our partners in a campaign against the measure leading up to the November 2, 2021 election. The Let’s Do Better initiative is misleading and will not solve street homelessness in Denver. Denver needs compassionate, proven solutions to address homelessness.
About Colorado Coalition for the Homeless
The mission of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless is to work collaboratively toward the prevention of homelessness and the creation of lasting solutions for people experiencing and at-risk of homelessness throughout Colorado. The Coalition advocates for and provides a continuum of housing and a variety of services to improve the health, well-being and stability of those it serves. Since its founding more than 30 years ago, the organization has earned state and national recognition for its integrated healthcare, housing and service programs. The Coalition’s comprehensive approach addresses the causes of homelessness, as well as the consequences, offering critical assistance to over 20,000 individuals and families each year. Learn more at www.coloradocoalition.org.