Apr 23, 2021 - News

Scoop: Denver GOP leader files controversial homeless measure

A photo of a homeless encampment in Denver.

A homeless encampment in Denver. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Denver GOP chairman Garrett Flicker filed a ballot initiative Thursday that would cap the number of city-sanctioned campsites for people experiencing homelessness to four or fewer on public land.

  • Residents also could sue the city for failing to remove illegal campsites within 72 hours of a complaint.

What they’re saying: "What we really seek to do is to stop the unsanctioned camping ... and reinforce the urban camping ban," Flicker told Alayna.

Details: The plan would work in conjunction with Denver’s sanctioned homeless camps initiative — a program that has relied on private property owners to grant outdoor space and faced resistance from neighbors nearly every step of the way.

  • Flicker suggested the four managed campsites on public property be funded with cash from the new homeless relief tax voters passed in November, estimated to generate $40 million annually.
  • Each campsite would be required to provide "running water, restroom facilities, and lighting," the ballot initiative reads.

The other side: The measure would be "extremely punitive" to the unhoused community, said Cathy Alderman, head of public policy at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

  • "Until we have more sheltering and housing resources available, we shouldn’t find ways to penalize people because they are experiencing homelessness," she told Axios.
  • The measure also failed to guarantee the camps would be set up or serviced adequately, she said.

Context: An ordinance banned urban camping citywide in 2012, but it hasn't stopped makeshift tent cities from appearing along sidewalks and street corners throughout the city.

  • Opponents argue sweeping away encampments destroys the belongings of those most vulnerable, violates their rights and causes trauma.
  • Supporters — including Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration — say deteriorating conditions at campsites threaten public health and safety.

The big picture: Hancock’s legal team appealed a January order by a federal judge requiring city officials to give a week’s notice before clearing out any homeless encampments.

  • The Hancock administration is working to divert 911 calls related to homelessness from police and reroute them toward a "compassion or civilian corps" —  though police will maintain a presence during sweeps, Axios first reported in February.

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