Denver to Continue Confiscating Survival Gear of Unhoused Under Encumbrance Ordinance, to Stop Under Camping Ban

Denver, CO – On Saturday December 10th, 2016, Mayor Michael Hancock “announced a cold-weather adjustment to enforcement of the city’s unauthorized camping ordinance.” After much public outcry from local residents and civil rights attorneys, including a letter from the ACLU, the mayor has finally taken action.

Although local advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud call this “a big win,” they also express caution:

This however is just one small step toward protecting people’s right to survive. This does not overturn the camping ban or even suspend it for the winter. This does not stop police from forcing people to “move along,” take down tents, or give tickets for the camping ban. This does not stop police and public works from conducting sweeps where they come through and take people’s property while claiming it to be an “encumbrance” or “abandoned.” This does not decriminalize homelessness in all the many growing ways it is being criminalized. And of course this does not end our housing crisis to enable people to actually afford homes.

A key part of the statement released by the mayor’s office is that, while the city will stop taking equipment including tents and blankets during the winter months until the end of April, they will only cease doing so when enforcing the unauthorized camping ban.

Since November 15th, when the city began increasing enforcement of the “encumbrance ordinance“, or DRMC Section 49-246, it has tried to maintain that when the police and public works are confiscating property during daily and nightly sweeps of people on the streets, that they are confiscating survival gear and other valuable and necessary property under the enforcement of this ordinance, not the unauthorized camping ban. Thus the careful clarification in their statement will allow the city to continue confiscating survival gear, forcing people to move along, and continue criminalizing people without housing by citing the encumbrance ordinance while doing so.

Before the unauthorized camping ban was passed, during a meeting of Denver’s Commission on Homelessness on April 19th, 2012, Mayor Hancock said that it was “insulting” and “absurd” that opponents to the camping ban were saying that the ban would criminalize homelessness. He also said that allowing people to sleep on the streets is “morally inhumane.”

Mayor Hancock and his administration have been complicit in the lack of truly affordable housing and other permanent solutions for people without housing. His administration continues to spend hundreds of millions on the creation of affordable housing for people who make an average of $35/hour, on temporary solutions such as the $8.6 million Lawrence Street Community Center, and on the enforcement of measures which, whether he disagrees with the definition of the word, do in fact criminalize people without housing.

David Lane, a local civil rights attorney and organizer of the new legal association called the Lawyers Civil Rights Coalition, said he called the Denver city attorney’s office Friday to demand an end to property confiscation or he would bring the city to federal court Monday morning.

All the while the city has a class-action lawsuit filed against it by local civil rights attorney Jason Flores-Williams for these sweeps and confiscations.

Some see Hancock’s pivot as an attempt to save face as his statement does not actually stop confiscations and leaves open other legal avenues for identical police practices to take place.

In the statement the city specifies that they have only taken “camping equipment as evidence from three individuals who were camping outside the City and County Building during a protest demonstration on Nov. 28.” This statement is false, as shown by our video below, which shows two tents along with the sleeping bags and blankets inside of them being taken by Denver Police as evidence of the camping ban on the corner of Arapahoe Street and 27th Avenue on November 28th, 2016.

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

Unicorn Riot coverage on Denver’s housing crisis and unhoused community:
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