Thursday, October 20, 2011

Denver may pursue law cracking down
on people sleeping downtown

Some Denver City Council members want to make it illegal for people to sleep overnight in the main business sector.

"We have to stand up for our businesses downtown and our women and children who are afraid to go downtown," said Councilman Charlie Brown. "Are we supposed to just give in?"

Denver in 2005 passed laws to curtail panhandling, including one that prohibits beggars from sitting or lying down on sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. No city ordinance prohibits sleeping overnight on sidewalks or in other public places that are not in city parks.

The number of homeless people crowding onto the 16th Street Mall is growing, say city officials, business owners and advocates for the homeless. Many homeless people stay there overnight because they can't find beds in shelters and the mall feels safe because it is lighted and populated, said Councilman Albus Brooks, whose district includes the mall.

"This is a nightmare," Brooks said. "Denver is very sympathetic to the homeless issue, especially during this fiscal time. But that's not the issue. We have predators, sex offenders, folks selling drugs and taking advantage of people and vagrants all pretending to be these homeless folks."

Brooks recently went to the mall at midnight to see the issue up close. He found about 180 people setting up to sleep overnight.

John Parvensky, president of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, called the effort to beef up laws "a real step backward" for the city, which has been working to end homelessness through its Road Home program.

"This is a direct result of the recession, of shelters being closed and lack of mental-health and treatment services that are needed for part of the population. It's not solving homelessness; it's just criminalizing it," Parvensky said. "If the business community is worried about making downtown a better environment for visitors, they ought to use a fraction of their money to build real solutions for the homeless."

Read the Denver Post report here.

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