V Reeves tells the story of Hurricane Hannah’s two miscarriages due to harsh conditions while experiencing homelessness. People experiencing homelessness and housing advocates gave comment during the Denver City Council meeting on May 10, 2022. (Andrew Fraieli for Colorado Newsline)
Unhoused people and housing advocates attended Denver City Council’s public comment on Monday and pushed it over by more than an hour, with the entire Council except one member leaving while people continued to speak.
The speakers were organized by Housekeys Action Network Denver to bring attention to this week’s 10-year anniversary of the passing of the city’s unauthorized camping ban, in what HAND is calling “Denver’s Decade of Doom.”
Speeches covered the ordinance’s effects on the unhoused trying to stay safe, as well as its efficacy, with Chris Peters, who’s experiencing homelessness, saying, “I’ve had so many things stolen, lost, broken, I can’t list them all. I don’t think any human being should have to go through what we do just for survival.”
He added, addressing the Council, “You’re wasting money pretending to address the issue.”
Kenny White, who is also experiencing homelessness, called the Council “monsters, especially all of you who have been here an entire decade while this has happened. You don’t care about human lives.”
He continued, referencing others who would be speaking: “There are so many people that are going to come up here and tell you that they’ve been beaten, they’ve been hurt, they’ve had their possessions taken — these are people that are trying to build themselves back up, and society has kicked them, and you have done nothing but beat them even more.”
He said that there are solutions other than mandated ones, “like actually having homes for people, actually not letting these corporate interests, these construction conglomerates and landlords who have completely taken over this city, to run the city, because we matter, too. I believe that most of your paychecks are coming from these people.”
The camping ban itself passed on May 14, 2012, with a 9-4 vote, sponsored by former City Council member Albus Brooks. The ordinance technically only prohibits camping on public and private property without permission; it does not ban camping outright.
In 2019, the ordinance was deemed unconstitutional by a Denver County court, saying it was cruel and unusual punishment and infringed on people’s Eighth Amendment rights. The ruling was reversed nine months later by a Denver District Court judge.
Supporters of the ban, such as the Denver Downtown Partnership, say it helps bring people experiencing homelessness to services, rather letting them come to harm on the streets.
Another person experiencing homelessness, Tyler Emmerson, said to the Council that “in this courtroom alone, we can see, so far, the anxiety, and the anger that (the ordinance) causes in people, the trauma that we experience from the police, from just being unhoused in the cold, in the wind, in the rain, in the snow.”
After one more speaker, Council member Stacie Gilmore read off 10 names of people meant to speak, but who were not there, before someone interrupted.
“All of these names that you are naming are people that have said that they wanted to speak,” said speaker V Reeves. “They shared stories, and they told us they couldn’t find somebody to protect their property to make sure that it wasn’t taken from them, or they would be here.”
Gilmore continued to read off names to no response. “Stop taking people’s shelter and they’d be here,” Reeves yelled.
One attendee, Jerry Burton, interrupted, saying the Council was purposely wasting their time, and demanded they listen. Shouts of, “It’s been 10 years!” and, “Let him speak!” rang out has Gilmore’s gavel echoed in the chamber.
Gilmore then said public comment was over and they had “legally required” meetings and three hearings they had to fit in. Burton interrupted again, saying, “I don’t give a hell what you said, you need to make time for the homeless.” There was applause from the audience.
Attendees refused to stop telling their stories and grievances about the ordinance, with Robert Chase, an advocate from Occupy Denver, saying, “You’re subsidizing businesses, you’re not helping the homeless,” before Gilmore called for a recess. One person shouted, “You don’t even care that people are dying,” and another said, “You’re all sociopathic,” as the Council began to file out of the room.
Council member Candi CdeBaca was the only member who stayed, addressing the room to tell everyone she would continue to listen to their testimonies. The meeting stopped being transmitted online, but one by one, people continued to tell their stories to the room of people as much as to CdeBaca.
“Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I’m sure that everyone up there was home with their families and their children, celebrating the blessing it is to be a mother,” began Reeves, telling a previous speaker’s story, as that person broke down in tears before she could speak at the beginning of the session. “This individual wanted you to know today that she would have been a mother, but instead she is carrying the pain of the sweeps, and the instability, that has caused two miscarriages.”
“Walking around in the cold, unprotected while pregnant, and twice, that was taken away prematurely,” Reeves continued. “How many mothers-to-be have we stopped from happening. It’s not right that only people who are housed have the privilege to find the safety and peace to bring life into this world.”
Annie Kurtz of the ACLU of Colorado intended to address the Council as well, but instead addressed one member and a filled room.
“This week marks 10 years since a few people in this room, sitting in your seats, under this roof, surrounded by these walls, passed Sec. 38-86.2,” said Kurtz. “The ordinance that, overnight, painted an entire class of Denver residents criminals, for no reason other than that they lack the means to access housing …”
“For the last 10 years of move-on orders, tickets, trucks that were meant for garbage all filled with people’s homes and belongings, Denver has shown itself to be perfectly willing to disregard the civil and human rights of its unhoused residents — that is, unless a higher court orders it to do otherwise,” continued Kurtz.
When asked what the ACLU’s motivation was for being at the public comment, Kurtz told Colorado Newsline, “This week marks 10 years since Denver passed the camping ban, and our position has always been that it’s unconstitutional. So, we’re here to express that.”
During the extended public comment, CdeBaca added that everyone in the room has the power to vote in a Council more willing to rescind the ordinance, and that a more willing Council would be easier than educating “an entire city to the level we need to, to understand and pass something like (initiative 300).”
When asked why she stayed and allowed the public comment to continue, CdeBaca told Colorado Newsline, “I came here to do my job, and I believe I was here to do my job and listen to what the people wanted us to listen to.”
Before wrapping up the session, saying people should continue to come to the Council’s public comments, CdeBaca said, “That’s what this is all about, building power. Tonight you guys have occupied our house, because you may not have individual houses, but everyone needs to know that his house belongs to all of us.”
Other events marking the anniversary of the camping ban are planned. On May 13, HAND is hosting an event in Denver at The Savoy, where Terese Howard, HAND’s founder, says various speakers will talk about the effects and history of the ban. Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project will be speaking on public housing and business improvement districts, and speakers from the Five Points neighborhood will talk on gentrification.
A rally outside the Denver City and County building on is planned for May 14, with music, food, resources and other services, as well as a march to the Downtown Denver Business Partnership office — a group that strongly supported both Denver’s sit/lie ordinance, and the unauthorized camping ordinance HAND is protesting against.
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