I am officially ashamed to say that I live in Denver.
Don’t get me wrong. I really like living here. There are so many cool people, and the mountains . . . oh the mountains! Plus, there’s some cool activism going on that I love being a part of. Oh, and the weather is great!
The politics? Not so much. Earlier this week, the Republicans in the Colorado state legislature killed a bill that would allow civil unions for lesbian and gay couples. As I usually do with CO state politics, I was able to say, “Well, CO state politics are shitty, but at least I live in the progressive bastion of Denver!”
Except that only a few hours later, Denver did this:
Whaaat? Seriously? In essence, it is now illegal to be homeless in Denver.
Now, if the “Urban Camping Ban” had been a part of a wider effort to actually offer services that get the homeless on their feet and off the street, I would probably be for it, but that is in no way the reason or rhetoric around why it was passed. Advocates, primarily business owners in downtown Denver and our hyper-pro-business mayor, claim that the blight of homeless people sleeping in public places is bad for business. Essentially, “People don’t want to come to my store when there are icky people around!” Despite that wildly dehumanizing rhetoric, the ban was passed.
There are two main problems that I see in the legislation. The first is simply practical. Where are homeless folks to go if they can’t sleep in parks, sidewalks, or other public spaces?
A simple analysis of numbers that was ignored by the city council in their approval of the ban reveals that there are simply not enough beds in shelters to provide every homeless person in the city a space to sleep even if they have an interest in seeking services! Was there a budget rider attached to the legislation to pay for an increase in homeless shelters? No . . . God forbid that we actually give the folks we’re kicking off the streets a place to go!
Further, the legislation states that police who confront a homeless person who is sleeping on the street must first try to find them a place to sleep. If that cannot be done (which is highly unlikely considering the lack of beds in the city), the person can be cited and/or arrested. Yup . . . You can be arrested and can face criminal charges simply for not having a place to sleep at night. Plus, the ban doesn’t offer any extra support to police who must do the enforcement. This is only likely to increase instances of conflict with the police (and, by extension, police brutality) for a population that is already significantly more likely to experience violence.
The second problem with the Denver Urban Camping Ban is less logistical and in many ways more serious: the ban further dehumanizes a population that already few considered human.
If you asked the average person about the homeless, you would likely get a response of empathy mixed with pity or you’d get resentment and condemnation. Either you’d hear, “We really should do more to support those dear souls!” or you’d hear, “They really should just get a job!”
What’s surprising about these two responses is that while they express very different sentiments consciously, they actually are likely operating from the same place subconsciously. Our society has effectively caste homeless people into such oblivion that our brains do not even consider them to be human beings. In their work with Princeton’s Center for the Study of Brain, Mind, and Behavior, Dr. Lasana T. Harris and Dr. Susan T. Fiske found that at a subconscious level, most people see homeless people and drug addicts as the object equivalent of an overflowing toilet or vomit. Further, this isn’t necessarily happening at a conscious level! When we see a homeless person, the part of our brain that should light up when it sees a human being does not light up.
Why, then, are the homeless more likely to experience violence and police brutality? Well, if the person carrying out the violence isn’t, at a conscious or subconscious level, acknowledging that the person they are hurting is indeed a person, it makes it a hell of a lot easier to commit violence against them. Why on earth should we extend further services that deal with the root causes of homelessness? That would be too expensive, and we already know that big business interests don’t want to pay the tax burden they are already supposed to carry! Let’s just say that they can’t sleep within our city limits unless they have shelter and a bed! That’ll get those icky people off our stoops.
The problem with the “Denver Urban Camping Ban,” then, is not just that it will hurt homeless people in very real ways but that it will further dehumanize the already dehumanized.
The Denver City Council should be ashamed, and each and every business that came out in support of this ban should be boycotted. Stay tuned . . . I’m working on a list, but here’s a start:
Boycott These Businesses for Their Support of the Denver Urban Camping Ban
Palm Restaurant – 1672 Lawrence Street
Snooze AM Eatery – 2262 Larimer Street
Subway – 409 16th Street (and arguably all Subway restaurants, as the district manager spoke out in favor of the ban)
Rockmount Ranch Wear – 1625 Wazee Street
Sage Hospitality was a vocal supporter of the ban. Here are a few businesses under that umbrella to boycott:
The Corner Office - 1401 Curtis Street
Second Home Kitchen + Bar – 150 Clayton Lane
Courtyard Denver Downtown – 934 16th Street
Residence Inn Denver City Center – 1725 Champa Street
The Oxford Hotel – 1600 17th Street
The Curtis – a Doubletree by Hilton – 1405 Curtis Street