Denver, Colo., Feb 8, 2018 / 05:00 am
Walk down 16th Street Mall in Denver, Colo., and you’ll probably see people who are homeless sitting on the ground with cardboard signs.
Walk down that same street with a cop, and you’ll probably notice that those same people stand up when they see you coming.
That’s because Denver has banned urban camping - and sitting for too long in public places could technically be considered “camping”, and could land a person with a ticket, a fine or even an arrest.
For the most part, the homeless do their best to comply, said Philip Couture, Director of Formation with Christ in the City, a Catholic homeless outreach in Denver.
The police officers are generally “of good will, not trying to cause any trouble but trying to enforce the law,” Couture said. But the camping ban does prevent the Christ in the City missionaries from sitting down with their friends on the street.
“We want to cooperate with the government while also serving our friends on the street, understanding that the government largely, while its a very complex issue, is trying to help the homeless - we really have confidence in that,” Couture said. “But it’s true that some laws that intend to help [the homeless] actually hurt them, and some laws that intend to get them off the streets punish them for being on the streets. Even people like us who are trying to help them, we are caught up in that as well sometimes.”
Laws and ordinances that impact the homeless are varied and complex. Some of them, like the camping ban, are an unintended consequence of laws aimed at specific groups - the camping ban was enacted to break up Occupy Denver, a spin-off of Occupy Wall Street, back in 2012.
Another Denver ordinance, aimed at minimizing the often-rowdy 4/20 marijuana rallies, had the unintended consequence that Christ in the City now has to pay $150 each month in order to use City Park for their ‘Lunch in the Park’ to feed their friends who are homeless.