‘DU report on homelessness is unfair to Colorado cities’

DEMAND ACCOUNTABILITY, STOP ENABLING BAD BEHAVIOR!

By Max R. Weller

Read the Denver Post editorial here. Copied below in its entirety, with my comments following:

A campaign that misrepresents the treatment of homeless people in order to promote a “Right to Rest Act” in the legislature continued this week with the release of a highly biased report by law students at the University of Denver under the supervision of professor Nantiya Ruan.

The report is so out of touch with the attitudes of many cities and towns toward the homeless that it actually compares various ordinances against trespassing, camping, park curfews, and obstructing rights of way as equivalent to Jim Crow and other vile exclusionary practices of the past.

The report makes much of the claim that Denver spent $750,000 enforcing laws in 2014 that affect the homeless, and accuses cities of “attempting to ‘solve’ the visible problem of homelessness by making them ‘invisible’ through criminalization.”

This is flatly and offensively false. Denver is not trying to address homelessness mainly through enforcement but by spending huge sums on health care, shelter, counseling, income support and a variety of other social services. Officials estimate the city spent $40 million on such services for the homeless in 2015 and will spend $47 million this year. And the City Council recently signed off on contracts for a housing and support program that will target 250 of the city’s most chronically homeless people at a potential cost of roughly $10 million.

No one is trying to sweep homelessness under the rug — not in Denver nor in many cities that are proud of their own initiatives. Cities as diverse as Fort Collins and Montrose have aggressive efforts to provide the homeless with stable housing and services.

A reader would appreciate none of this from the DU report. Instead, Colorado municipalities are portrayed as instituting a mean, petty campaign to harass the homeless and drive them away.

It may well be true that ordinances regulating vagrancy and loitering in some towns need updating so they are not impermissibly vague under federal court rulings. But cities where most of the homeless reside quickly adjust their laws to legal realities. When federal Judge Christine Arguello issued a sweeping ruling against Grand Junction’s panhandling rules last year, for example, cities like Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs quickly tweaked their ordinances as well.

The report’s authors clearly believe that anti-camping laws and park curfews should be unconstitutional because of how they affect the homeless — and apparently even laws that bar the obstruction of sidewalks and other public spaces. But they are not unconstitutional at the moment — and in some cases have been on the books for a century.

Cities have legitimate reasons to worry about allowing parks and vital urban spaces to become semi-permanent camps. But House Bill 1191, which the report praises, would order local governments to stop enforcing ordinances to that end. HB 1191 should be defeated, just as a slightly different measure was last year.

The law school report promotes strange beliefs about economic reality, too, at one point even claiming that “throughout Denver’s history, few have benefited from the economic growth while many have struggled … .”

Yes, many have struggled. But it is silly to claim few have benefited from economic growth. Average inflation-adjusted income today is multiple times what it was, say, in 1900. Which is why, by the way, Denver can afford to spend so much on its homeless population.

Homeless people line up at the Denver Rescue Mission  on April 1, 2014. (Hyoung Chang, Denver Post file)

Homeless people line up at the Denver Rescue Mission on April 1, 2014. (Hyoung Chang, Denver Post file)

My only criticism of the DP’s Editorial Board is that they didn’t go even further and label the self-styled homeless advocates as “damned liars who are making a living and/or enjoying the spotlight by exploiting the homeless” — which is, of course, what Boulder’s own Media Whores like Jim Budd (now in prison for rape), Joy Eckstine Redstone, Isabel McDevitt of Bridge House, Mike Homner, Darren O’Connor, Greg Harms of Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, Betsey Martens of Boulder Housing Partners, and others of their ilk do at every opportunity. A pox on them all!

It’s hard enough being a homeless man, woman, or child without the phony do-gooders pissing everyone off, to the point where the homeless themselves — rather than the corrupt shelter/services industry the advocates promote — become targets for a righteous anger.

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Followers of the do-gooders in an organized demonstration in downtown Boulder, CO a few years ago.

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