Harnessing the Wind of the Ordinance

by Diana Kurniawan

No doubt there are more challenges to being homeless today, largely due to the recent ordinance making camping illegal that was approved May 14. The ordinance will prohibit unauthorized camping on public and private property in Denver. Mayor Hancock signed the bill into law, as reported by the Denver Post, to ensure the highest level of health and safety for Denver.

However, during the city public hearing on the ordinance, there were heated arguments, and I questions whether or not those arguments were taken into account. 

“Sweeping them out of the public view will prolong the societal impetus to correct this egregious situation,” said Jaime Lewis, of Colorado Cross Disability Coalition.

In light of Scott Russell’s Denver VOICE-supported art show, Concrete and Cardboard, and last month’s public hearing, it is a surprise to see Denver converted to a no-camping zone. It's largely understood that Denver became a target of the ordinance because of the influx of local Occupy Wall Street protesters, and there were the complaints from local businesses that view the homeless as unsanitary and unsafe. However, it has been a difficult path to gain funding for the resources, and now Denver's Police will have to make sure the criminalization will not impede on the progress for homeless care.

“If someone is arrested for this [camping outside], they will either get a fine they cannot pay or some other condition that they cannot meet [forced treatment, forced sheltering, etc.], creating a new criminal record making it that much more difficult to obtain permanent housing,” said Lewis during the public hearing on April 30.           

Other critics of the ordinance posted on Denver VOICE blog.

Perhaps this is where creativity such as Russell’s will come in handy—a means to increase awareness and resources to care for the homeless population. It’s not a difficult concept to grasp—for the masses to increase involvement and awareness for the homeless. When Denver wanted a new baseball and football stadium, taxpayers voted to raise the sales tax. We'll pay to house sports teams but not our own human neighbors?

Why not get more people to invest for safe housing and creative solutions to care for the people in Colorado? Maybe not by raising taxes but by collaboration with more corporations and the home building industry. Even $1 million will go a long way for homeless care. But how will we raise the money, volunteerism and opportunity?

More and more organizations such as Habitat for Humanity will be an example of a great organization to approach, especially with regards to the homelessness issue. As reported in the New York Times, in the eastside of Portland, Ore., this spring, there are 22 homes being built, part of the largest Habitat project in Oregon’s history. All are built on land purchased inexpensively because of the economic downturn. In other states such as Nevada and Florida, Habitat stopped new construction and focused on buying abandoned properties with high foreclosure rates, then renovating them.

This might be the impetus of a new relationship for Colorado to make with Habitat and other home-builder organizations to harness the wind of the ordinance supporters did not take into account. Currently, Habitat of Metro Denver runs a homeownership program for low-income families, but maybe there is room for remodeling and renovating homes that are foreclosed or on abandoned lots just as other state programs are doing.

What can you do? Habitat is always looking for volunteers, and they have an Annual Breakfast on May 31—a great opportunity for Denverites to join in the cause for homelessness and poverty through the organization.