Homeless Out Loud delivers more than 9,000 signatures for “right to survive” ballot question

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Terese Howard speaks as Denver Homeless Out Loud holds a rally opposing Business Improvement Districts’ policies that they say marginalize people experiencing homelessness, Sept. 18, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Petitioners on Monday turned in more than 9,000 signatures in support of asking Denver voters whether to effectively overturn the city’s urban camping ban.

Terese Howard of Denver Homeless Out Loud said the group was awaiting word from  the Denver Elections Division on whether enough signatures are valid to get the Denver Right to Survive Initiative on May 2019 ballots. About 4,700 valid signatures are needed. The figure set by law is 5 percent of votes cast for mayor in the last election.

The division has 25 business days to issue a ruling. In the meantime, Howard said, Denver Homeless Out Loud was preparing yard signs and pamphlets and planning to update its website for an awareness-raising campaign on both the specifics of the initiative and on the realities of being homeless in Denver.

In 2012 the Denver City council approved a law banning people from sheltering themselves, even with a blanket, in public.

The proposed initiative would establish a “right to rest” protected from the elements in public. The proposal also calls for people to be able to eat and share food in public places where food is not prohibited, to shelter in legally parked motor vehicles and “to have a right and expectation of privacy and safety of or in one’s person and property.”

The 2012 ban earned Denver a place in the “hall of shame” section of a 2016 report by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. The center concluded that “while the number of tickets actually issued for illegal camping is low, the Denver Police Department makes thousands of ‘street checks’ related to violation of the law – a practice that advocates say amounts to use of threats by police to ticket or arrest homeless people unless they dismantle their camps.”

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