After RTD banned sitting, lying, and eating at Union Station, activists went there to sit, lie and eat

Advocates say RTD’s new policy targets Denver’s unhoused population.

A small group of protesters do yoga during a sit-in against new rules barring sleeping and sitting on the ground inside Union Station's bus terminal. Feb. 3, 2021.

A small group of protesters do yoga during a sit-in against new rules barring sleeping and sitting on the ground inside Union Station's bus terminal. Feb. 3, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Nathaniel Minor

“Sitting!” yelled the activist.

“Is not a crime!” replied a small group sitting on yoga mats in the Chestnut Pavilion bus depot next to Union Station in downtown Denver early on Wednesday.

“Eating!” the activist Ean Thomas Tafoya continued.

“Is not a crime!” came the answer.

Tafoya paused, then took a big bite out of a banana.

Ean Thomas Tafoya eats a banana inside Union Station's bus terminal, an act that was recently banned in the space. Tafoya organized a sit-in to protest the new rules. Feb. 3, 2021.

Ean Thomas Tafoya eats a banana inside Union Station's bus terminal, an act that was recently banned in the space. Tafoya organized a sit-in to protest the new rules. Feb. 3, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The group of about 12 was protesting a new Regional Transportation District policy that bans eating, lying and sitting on the floor at the bus depot because of “problematic and unsafe behavior in the station.”

Advocates say the policy targets those in Denver’s unhoused population that seek refuge in the heated confines of the bus depot, which is a public space.

“We see this as the continued genocide of the homeless, and we find it unacceptable,” said Asher Crowne of Capitol Hill Outreach Medics.

She and other protesters want RTD to reverse its new policy. In a press release last week, RTD CEO and general manager Debra Johnson said the agency implemented the new rules to comply with local public health orders and to keep the depot safe for “employees, customers and the general public.” The Denver Department of Public Health issued two citations to RTD after public health workers observed customers and employees not wearing masks, not social distancing, and eating.

Agency spokeswoman Laurie Huff said the policy also extends to Civic Center station on the east side of downtown Denver and the downtown Boulder transit center.

Timothy Renault was asked to leave Union Station's bus terminal after a security guard found him sleeping there on a bench. Feb. 3, 2020.

Timothy Reneau was asked to leave Union Station's bus terminal after a security guard found him sleeping there on a bench. Feb. 3, 2020.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

A few steps from the small protest, Timothy Reneau, a Denver native who’s currently homeless, was sitting with some of his possessions — mostly food and clothing.

“I just come down here to warm up and wake my body up,” Reneau said.

Reneau said he used to be able to relax — and even sleep — in the depot. But since the policy change, he said, he’s often been told by RTD security guards to move along.

Guards and RTD’s own police officers left the protesters alone on Wednesday morning. But they did ask a handful of others throughout the station to get up off the floor and to put masks on.

In the brighter, airy Union Station main hall waiting area next door, which is managed by a private company, three patrons weren’t wearing masks as they sipped coffee at about 8 a.m. When we asked about the discrepancy between that scene and the one downstairs, a security guard said masks weren’t required for people as they ate and drank.

A security officer tells a Timothy Renault, who was sleeping in Union Station's bus terminal, to wake up and leave. Feb. 3, 2021.

A security officer tells a Timothy Reneau, who was sleeping in Union Station's bus terminal, to wake up and leave. Feb. 3, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A small group of protesters hold a sit-in against new rules barring sleeping and sitting on the ground inside Union Station's bus terminal. Feb. 3, 2021.

A small group of protesters hold a sit-in against new rules barring sleeping and sitting on the ground inside Union Station's bus terminal. Feb. 3, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Kelsang Virya joins a small group of protesters holding a sit-in against new rules barring sleeping and sitting on the ground inside Union Station's bus terminal. Feb. 3, 2021.

Kelsang Virya joins a small group of protesters holding a sit-in against new rules barring sleeping and sitting on the ground inside Union Station's bus terminal. Feb. 3, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A small group of protesters hold a sit-in against new rules barring sleeping and sitting on the ground inside Union Station's bus terminal. Feb. 3, 2021.

A small group of protesters hold a sit-in against new rules barring sleeping and sitting on the ground inside Union Station's bus terminal. Feb. 3, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Mike Meader (left), RTD's chief safety and security officer, walks by a small group of protesters holding a sit-in against new rules barring sleeping and sitting on the ground inside Union Station's bus terminal. Feb. 3, 2021.

Mike Meader (left), RTD's chief safety and security officer, walks by a small group of protesters holding a sit-in against new rules barring sleeping and sitting on the ground inside Union Station's bus terminal. Feb. 3, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
A security officer tells a man sleeping in Union Station's bus terminal to wake up and leave. Feb. 3, 2021.

A security officer tells a man sleeping in Union Station's bus terminal to wake up and leave. Feb. 3, 2021.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

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