Last week, state legislators rejected an effort to create a statewide “right to rest.” Now, the advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud will try again in Denver.
The group aims to put an item on Denver voters’ ballots for the May 2019 election. Their proposal would allow people to rest in public spaces and live in motor vehicles with “a right and expectation of privacy and safety,” as long as they’re not obstructing the public, according to documents filed with the city.
If it passes, such a proposal would apparently reverse the city’s urban camping ban, which Denver’s elected leaders put in place in 2012. The advocates have long tried to stop the city from moving or removing encampments of people experiencing homelessness.
The current law forbids the use of shelter, sometimes including blankets and cardboard, according to a CU Denver report. A video of police confiscating blankets for evidence went viral in 2016. The city says that it only uses the law to uphold public health and safety.
The new campaign is called the “The Denver Right to Survive Initiative.” It also would declare violations of the ordinance to be civil rights violations.
“There’s hope in humanity that folks will be human and vote as humans — and we know that it’s not going to be easy, because there is so much hate in our society, as with all these struggles against oppression over the years,” said DHOL organizer Terese Howard.
First, though, the campaigners have to get through several steps. This week, they’ll meet with city legal staff to review any potential legal issues with the campaign. If all goes well, they’ll next need to gather nearly 5,000 valid voter signatures in order to get on the ballot.
Then, of course, they would have to win a majority of voters’ approval in the May 2019 election.
DHOL and others have tried four times now to get a similar law passed at the state level — a fight that they don’t plan to end. Meanwhile, this is the first time they’ve tried a local initiative.
“It’s a big deal, and we hope that this will be an opportunity to educate everyone in the public about what’s really going on — the fact that we do have a law called a camping ban that makes it illegal to use a blanket,” Howard said.
The proposed ballot text:
“Shall the voters of the City and County of Denver adopt a measure that secures and enforces basic rights for all people within the jurisdiction of the City and County of Denver, including the right to rest and shelter oneself from the elements in a non-obstructive manner in public spaces, to eat, share accept or give food in any public space where food is not prohibited, to occupy one’s own legally parked motor vehicle, or occupy a legally parked motor vehicle belonging to another, with the owner’s permission, and to have a right and expectation of privacy and safety of or in one’s person and property?”