A line of signs condemning homeless sweeps lean up against a table at a three-day demonstration in downtown Denver on Oct. 15, 2020. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)
As excitement grows from leaders and baseball fans alike for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game to come to Denver this weekend, there continues to be a conversation about how political decisions have caused the change in venue.
Decisions by Georgia lawmakers to further restrict access to voting gave impetus for the MLB to find another location for their annual gathering of top players around the league. They found Colorado. A state that undoubtedly has one of the easiest voting processes in the country. Where we witnessed voters standing in line for close to 10 hours to cast their ballots in Georgia, Colorado’s process couldn’t be more accessible. Every election season, I’m afforded the full period to consider candidates and issues and each year (sometimes twice a year in Denver) I take five minutes to drive to the election office on Bannock Street to drop my ballot off.
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But as we prepare for the All-Star game that found its way to us through harmful political decisions by leadership in Georgia, I can’t help but consider harmful political decisions by Denver that will be on display during this event.
With the announcement of the game, there also came the expectation that the city will ramp up its practice of violently displacing unhoused folks, particularly those who take shelter in encampments. As a result, the city drastically increased its violent practices, known as “sweeps,” over the past month. According to The Denver Post, the city conducted more sweeps in the past six months than all of 2020. During the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has strongly discouraged practices such as sweeps.
The city’s urban camping ban is a policy that criminalizes survival by outlawing the use of “shelter” such as blankets and sleeping bags, banning food distribution, and banning “camping.” The policy is a stain on the city of Denver and Mayor Michael Hancock’s legacy, exemplified in part by a class action lawsuit the city settled in 2019. The city was again brought to court last year for violating the class action lawsuit. The practice of displacing unhoused folks from their shelter is inhumane, violent, and traumatizing while also being very costly to taxpayers. Even worse, it doesn’t solve the issue of homelessness by pushing unhoused folks around the city with the threat of tickets or jail when they aren’t directing them to anywhere they can go.
I have been involved in fighting this issue since 2015 while supporting organizations that have led those efforts. During that time, a bill called Right to Rest was introduced four years in a row to the state Legislature to guarantee basic human rights that would challenge policies like the camping ban, and yet it was defeated in Democrat-led committees each year. After the failure at the state level, advocates introduced Initiative 300, or “Right to Survive,” on the ballot in Denver’s 2019 municipal election. The initiative was soundly defeated 81.19% to 18.81%, in part because a “No on 300” campaign that was fueled by $3 million directed a narrative about homelessness that was untrue and harmful. That opposition fund was contributed to by the Colorado Rockies baseball team, among others.
The city continues its inaction on the issue, other than providing small Safe Outdoor Spaces, which themselves would seem to contradict the city’s practice of sweeping camps that are unauthorized. Hancock has been confronted on both sides of the issue of encampments about this harmful policy and yet remains steadfast in his support of one of the most nonsensical, costly and inhumane policies that exists in the country.
People have died as a result of having their belongings, including shelter like tents and blankets, stolen from them by the city. The city is filled with ugly fencing to prevent tents from popping up and just this week, two encampments near our Denver Alliance for Street Health Response, or DASHR, office were displaced.
One of the policies enacted in Georgia was the criminalization of distributing water and food to voters waiting hours in line. However, this is a good moment to recognize that Denver and other cities in Colorado have criminalized things like giving out food and using a blanket, especially if it means the survival of someone who is unhoused. And it would be a shame if a national entity like the MLB decided that our own inhumane policies were reason enough to move events, businesses, and resources from our city, as they did with Georgia.
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