As a singer on the City and County Building steps finished rehearsing the national anthem she would soon perform at the inauguration of the mayor and city council members, activists across the street pressed the incoming government to address homelessness.
The activists said they would be back. They pledged to show up regularly at city council meetings to monopolize the public comment period with calls for a repeal of Denver’s urban camping ban; improvements at shelters including ensuring they are ADA compliant; increased funding to create housing that the poorest can afford; more protection for renters; and other points in a 13-page, agenda on homelessness released Monday by Denver Homeless Out Loud, an advocacy group led by people who are or have experienced homelessness.
The city council appearances are among the activities Denverites can expect over the next three months from Denver Homeless Out Loud and its allies. They kicked off 100 days of action against homelessness with Monday’s pre-inauguration rally that drew about two dozen people.
Former mayoral candidate Lisa Calderón, who is chief of staff for Candi CdeBaca, was among those listening to the speakers in the park about an hour before CdeBaca took office as a council member. Calderón said she crossed the street to underline that CdeBaca’s team saw addressing homelessness and listening to those affected by the city’s housing and homelessness policies were priorities. She added CdeBaca had not yet had time to study the steps Denver Homeless Out Loud is calling for city government to take over the next 100 days.
“Their cause is righteous,” Calderón said of the activists gathered under a tree in Civic Center Park.
Benjamin Dunning, a Denver Homeless Out Loud co-founder, said the mayor and council members were neither invited to nor expected at the rally on the morning they were taking office.
“We’re not here to disrupt their day,” Dunning said, adding that as part of the 100 days of action he and others would be visiting officials in their offices and inviting them to meet on the streets with people living there. Calderón said CdeBaca would accept the offer to be connected with people experiencing homelessness “as soon as we can.”
During the ceremony a woman shouted “Fuck Mayor Hancock!” and “Stop criminalizing the homelessness Mayor Hancock!” as Michael Hancock was sworn in for his third term. She had not been among the speakers at the earlier rally.
Tammy Rosencrance did speak at the rally, commanding attention as someone living in homelessness.
“We won’t be silent,” she said through a megaphone.
She added in an interview that she had been homeless for several years. She planned to spend Monday night on the streets, saying she often found shelters full.
“I walk around half the night because I’m afraid to stop and rest,” she said, saying she believed police officers might confiscate her few belongings — a walker and a bright pink back pack and canvas tote bag — if they thought she was violating the camping ban.
“People look down on us like we’re trash,” she said. “We are people. And we are a priority.”
Housing and homelessness were key themes in Hancock’s inaugural address. He spoke of rapid rehousing, which refers to getting people experiencing homelessness quickly into permanent housing, not shelters or transitional solutions. He also said that when “the market refuses to respond,” government must ensure affordable homes are attainable for all.
Denver Homeless Out Loud got Initiative 300, which would have repealed the camping ban, on the May municipal ballot only to see it soundly defeated. Advocates argue that during the campaign too little attention was paid to the widening gap between wages and living costs that has contributed to a nationwide housing crisis, and too much to arguments that individuals experiencing homelessness were somehow responsible for their plight, dangers to society or both.
Homelessness organizations that provide shelter, health and other services had questioned whether 300 could be read so broadly as to interfere with their efforts to help people in need. Some service providers had called instead for city council to overturn the ban, saying that would be a more effective and targeted way to end what they say is the criminalization of homelessness.
Denver Homeless Out Loud’s Dunning said he believed there were enough votes on the new city council to overturn the camping ban, but perhaps not enough to overturn a Hancock veto of such a move. Council can override vetos with 9 votes.
Hancock advocated the camping ban when city council adopted it in 2012 and argued during the Initiative 300 campaign that repealing it could undermine Denver’s ability to maintain order and sanitation in public spaces.
Kalyn Rose Heffernan, who ran for mayor in May on a platform that made addressing homelessness a priority, said she thought it was possible the new city council would overturn the camping ban.
“But it’s not going to be easy,” she said.
Heffernan attended the Denver Homeless Out Loud rally but did not speak. She stayed to heckle during the inauguration.