With Mayor’s Approval, Denver Continues Survival Gear Confiscations

Denver, CO – After Mayor Michael Hancock released a statement on Saturday, December 10th, about a supposed policy change to the confiscations of people’s survival gear including blankets and tents, over twenty five news outlets have praised him for this apparent temporary winter-month “end” to confiscations including 9News and CBS Denver.

As we outlined in our last article about the sweeps, and what these news outlets are failing to report on, is that the mayor’s statement does not end the confiscations of people’s survival gear. The only change in policy is that the police have been told they cannot take people’s property as evidence while enforcing the unauthorized camping ban, but they can continue taking people’s property while enforcing the encumbrance ordinance. Denver police (DPD) are still enforcing policies which give them the power to confiscate belongings, move people along, and criminalize people without housing–all under the encouragement and approval of Mayor Hancock.

During an on-air interview with 9News, Mayor Hancock helps clarify this distinction:

Once the city attorney’s weighed in and partnership with DPD, we found or realized there are better ways to do this, maybe take pictures of the evidence. The reality is we don’t have to confiscate them, but we will not allow for encumbrances on our sidewalks where it becomes unsafe, unsanitary, unhealthy for everyone.”

In the statement, the mayor writes: “We never intended to take the belongings that people need to keep warm.” However, according to the following DPD Training Bulletin for enforcing the camping ban, police are specifically directed to take such survival gear as evidence of the crime of camping.

On page 4 of the protocol sheet under the title “Enforcement Requirements” listed as II 3.b.6 and 3.c.4:

Photograph, video, or collect evidence of camping, such as tents, tarps, and/or sleeping bags, and place them in Property Bureau.

Also on page 4 under the title “Documentation Needed” listed as III e:

Property invoice numbers for evidence of camping that is seized, photographed, videotaped, and placed in to Property.

Even though the training bulletin states the police can photograph or videotape evidence instead of confiscating, DPD has continuously defaulted to confiscation while also videotaping and photographing. As seen in our screenshot below from our recent video, the officers wear cameras while carrying out these confiscations.

The mayor’s statement continues: “Therefore, I have directed Denver police to cease taking camping equipment, like tents and blankets, when enforcing the unauthorized camping ordinance through the end of April.” The loophole here is “when enforcing the unauthorized camping ordinance.

The encumbrance ordinance, or DRMC Section 49-246, has been the primary ordinance consistently cited and enforced while Denver police and public works confiscate property without due process of law. The encumbrance ordinance states: “Pursuant to DRMC Sec.49-246, public streets, alleys, sidewalks, and other public spaces must remain free from all unauthorized encumbrances and obstructions.”

Another reason why the mayor’s statement about the city’s intentions of not taking “the belongings that people need to keep warm” is false, is that under the encumbrance ordinance, police have and will unceasingly confiscate people’s property and survival gear when they determine it an “encumbrance and obstruction.”

About every six months, Denver puts up notices about their increased enforcement of this ordinance. No matter if the city cites and enforces the encumbrance ordinance over the camping ban, they have the same inhumane, unjust and potentially fatal outcomes.

Our image below shows the March 8th, 2016 notice (left) and the more recent November 15th, 2016 notice (right).

The city has repeatedly argued that there are plenty of open shelter beds and that because, according to city officials, it’s safer and warmer indoors, people on the streets should take the opportunity to stay in a shelter.

During the on-air interview with 9News, Mayor Hancock comments on the shelter situation:

You know, the reality is, the number one objective is to move people indoors. In these frigid temperatures, we find nothing compassionate about saying it’s okay for you to sleep here on the sidewalk or in our parks. The reality is we want to move you indoors. We are sheltering over 3,000 people per night in this city, we have additional beds available, and so we are trying to work to remove those barriers, we have professionals on the streets every day trying to encourage folks to move indoors.”

A woman who wishes to remain anonymous, but encouraged us to take photos of her infected skin, stayed in the Samaritan House shelter and got such a severe infection from bed bugs she needed to go to the hospital and be put on antibiotics. We reached out to the shelter to get a statement, however we have not received a response. Here are two graphic images of her skin after a few weeks of treatment:

With fear of bed bugs being one valid argument to avoid shelters, there are many others including:

  • Not wanting to split from your partner who is of a different gender (there are separate shelters, or separate areas in the shelters, for men and women, which don’t accommodate for people who are transgender or just don’t identify as a man or woman)
  • Not wanting your belongings and property stolen if you have no safe place to keep them while in the shelter (many shelters don’t allow multiple personal items, an example is Saint Francis Center which only allows shelter guests to store one bag, so you either have to stash them somewhere outside or have someone watch them who is staying outside)
  • Not wanting to sleep close to hundreds of other people who may be sick or who may make you feel unsafe
  • Not being able to breathe because of overheating and poor air quality

In another one of our recent videos, Roy, a Denver resident without housing, expresses his disapproval of shelters and the city’s sweeps:

Our lives are already miserable enough, all we want to do is rest. If they want to help us like they claim, find us affordable housing. Help us get housing instead of harassing us and making it a crime to rest. Not being forced to go into a shelter that last time I went, I got ate up by bed bugs. Last time my wife went here to Samaritan House, they keep it so hot in there, she’s asthmatic, and she nearly had an asthma attack.”

Below is an image from a report published on April 3rd, 2013 by Denver Homeless Out Loud entitled “The Denver Camping Ban: A report from the Street.” It further highlights why shelters are not the answer.

Mayor Hancock has always been a pivotal proponent of the unauthorized urban camping ban, and largely because of him, it went into effect on May 28th, 2012. When over 25 news outlets are helping promote the false claim that all confiscations of survival gear are temporarily ending and touting the mayor for making that decision, they are erasing his heavily active role in passing that law which gave Denver police the authority to take survival gear from people on dozens of occasions, including on November 28th, as seen in our video and a facebook live video from Kayvan Soorena Tyler Khalatbari-Limaki.

In a Denver Post article published on October 21, 2011, Mayor Hancock told the Post’s editorial board that he

has been holding meetings ever since he came into office to figure out what to do about the growing presence of homeless people on Denver’s streets, and particularly in the downtown core areas, including the 16th Street Mall,” he goes on to say, “We only have one downtown, We cannot afford to lose our city core. If people don’t feel safe going downtown, that is a threat to the very vitality of our downtown and our city. I was surprised as anyone to learn that you can sleep on the mall. Why is that the case?

As stated by Roy and other people living on the streets, if the mayor does not want to “lose our city core,” why doesn’t he implement policies to create truly affordable housing for low-to-no-income individuals and families?

One reason may have to do with Tami Door, president and chief executive of the Downtown Denver Partnership, who in the same article stated:

There’s no question that we have serious concerns over the increased numbers of individuals on the streets. There are behaviors that aren’t acceptable and we need to explore ways in which we address these.”

According to the Partnership’s 2011-2012 Annual Report, “The Partnership helped lead the successful lobbying efforts to institute a city-wide unauthorized camping ban to address behaviors negatively affecting businesses and the Downtown environment.”

However in another Denver Post article published on October 19th, 2013, Tami Door expresses how the DDP is planning to help people who need affordable housing:

The Downtown Denver Partnership has developed formal strategies and goals to add as many as 18,000 affordable units to downtown by 2027.”

The track record of both Mayor Hancock and Tami Door are of prioritizing financial interests and the wealthiest of Denver’s population. Their definition of “affordable units“, is housing for people who can afford to pay over $1,000 per month in rent.

In Colorado, affordable housing is typically defined as paying no more than 30% of gross income for housing including utilities. In 2010, 47% of all renter households were paying more than 30% of their income toward housing, and of these rent-burdened households, 51% had family incomes of less than $20,000 per year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to “The Self-Sufficiency Standard For Colorado 2015” report by Colorado Center on Law and Policy, the cost of living across the state has outpaced wages by a ratio of 3:1 over the last fourteen years. Much of this increase is from a lack of truly affordable housing where the average rental unit in Denver rests at a prohibitively high average of $1,291 per month, following double-digit percentage growth year after year.

To afford this average rental price in the Denver metro area, renters need to make $35 an hour, or almost four and a half times Colorado’s minimum wage. Thus increasing and fueling the cycle of poverty and homelessness for many Denver residents.

The reality is this, right now there are thousands of people including veterans, women, children, men, trans folks, people with disabilities, etc., without housing and without sufficient resources in Denver. Persistently telling them to “move along” and confiscating their property is cruel, unhelpful, and illegal, which is why the city currently has a class-action lawsuit filed against it.

During “The Parade of Rights” on December 2nd, a rally organized by advocates and concerned citizens to demand an end to the camping ban, Ray Lyall, a Denver resident without housing who is a plaintiff in the class-action, spoke from his heart to a crowd of over 50 people.

People are dying. If you care, it’s time to stand up. They’re taking away blankets from people in wheelchairs. People can’t go into shelters because they’re a couple, and [the police] take away their blankets. That’s attempted homicide as far as I’m concerned. You need to go and tell the city council we gotta stop this urban camping ban. It’s not an urban camping ban anymore, we’re calling it the urban survival ban, because camping is fun, you get that? Camping is fun. We’re surviving.”

 

Unicorn Riot will continue coverage on the current targeting of Denver’s unhoused population and will provide updates as they become available.

Previous Unicorn Riot coverage on Denver’s housing crisis:

 

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