DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper successfully pushed a plan to transfer homeless people to Fort Lyon in southeast Colorado for rehabilitation despite arguments from both Democrats and Republicans against spending more than $10.5 million on the untested program.
The Fort Lyon project isn’t the first homeless initiative that Hickenlooper has backed. As mayor of Denver, he launched “Denver’s Road Home,” an initiative to end homelessness in the city by 2015.
Critics claim that the 10-year initiative has failed to provide sufficient housing and services despite spending more than $10 million a year. Hickenlooper said he planned to make the program 88 percent government funded by 2012, and intended to use part of $1.5 billion in federal stimulus funds for housing and support projects.
“We have been asked lately if the economy is going to impact the progress we are making to end homelessness… We have never been more determined to move this initiative forward,” asserted Hickenlooper.
Yet the number of individuals panhandling and sleeping on the streets has escalated, threatening the viability of downtown businesses. That led the Denver City Council to pass the “Urban Camping” ban in May 2012.
Occupy Denver, MoveOn, labor union members and illegal immigrant rights activists who railed against the “1 percent” high income earners and capitalism in 2011, are now protesting so-called “elitists” who supported the “Urban Camping” ban.
The problem of urban campers was evident in October 2011, when Occupy Denver protestors erected 70 tents in Civic Center Park. After ignoring demands to leave by Hickenlooper, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Attorney General John Suthers, police in riot gear cleared the park and arrested more than 20 demonstrators.
This week, the coalition plans to protest in front of the Downtown Denver Partnership and The Palm Restaurant. The entities and The Colorado Restaurant Association supported the ordinance, which activists said, “created a law enforcement tool designed to move the homeless out of sight of tourists and residents.”
Snooze, a breakfast eatery, reversed its support of the ban after coalition demonstrations disrupted Sunday brunches, and customers complained.
The Palm, frequented by politcos and powerbrokers in Denver, was targeted because Sales Manager Wendy Klein testified in favor of the ban even though the restaurant had provided charitable contributions to help the homeless.
“We need to let The Palm know that criminalizing acts of survival while being homeless is a despicable way to treat another human who needs help,” said Irene Clark of MoveOn Denver. “No amount of charity can undo that.”
But, Klein said, “There have been verbal confrontations and physical confrontations that have gotten violent,” including homeless individuals trying to break into the restaurant, intimidating employees and clients, and stabbing one customer.
Critics claim the “urban camping” ban has driven homeless people from the business district, particularly 16th Street Mall, to other Denver metro areas.
Rev. Lucas Grubbs, pastor of the Church of Ascension, said homeless people slept frequently on the grounds and left debris. When the pastor asked a homeless man sleeping in the bushes to leave the premises on May 12, he said the man “went ballistic.” About 12 hours later the historic church was on fire, ignited in the vicinity of the bushes according to fire department investigators.
About 19 percent of the homeless people have migrated to other parts of the metro area according a survey of 513 individuals conducted by Tony Robinson, political science department chair at the University of Colorado Denver, and Denver Homeless Out Loud Community activists.
“We’re in this for the long haul and this ordinance was always supposed to be the first step to many solutions,” said Denver Councilman Albus Brooks, who said the city has added shelter beds and services.
MoveOn Denver commented on Facebook, “Isn’t it something to see – Albus Brooks, the Denver City Council and all the elites work against the homeless?”