Denver’s homeless protest local businesses to help repeal camping ban

Jessie Paris’s life changed radically in 2012. That year he graduated from MSU Denver with a degree in criminal justice. It was also the year Denver law branded him a criminal.

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Jessie Paris protests Rock Bottom’s affiliation with the Downtown Denver Partnership and the Urban Camping Ban on Oct. 6. Photo by Ali Watkins | awatkin9@msudenver.edu

Paris lived out of his car during the last semester of his education. The passing of the ban impacted his degree of homelessness.

So now, Paris joins other homeless Denverites to protest the camping ban every Friday. While other people on the mall ring in their weekends with dinner and a show, the protest group yells, “No more excuses for human rights abuses. Shame, Rock Bottom, shame.”

Paris said the reason he was homeless was different from his reason in college. Student loan debt and camping fines put him in a financial state that he’s yet to recover from.

“I had a loss of place,” Paris said. “Loss of self. Loss of a lot of things.”

For the past five years, Paris has lived homelessly for the entire lifespan of Denver’s Urban Camping Ban. On May 14, 2012 the Denver City Council passed the controversial ban that makes it illegal to sleep, pitch tents or other structures on public or private property. Since its implementation, the ban has been protested, received criticisms from the American Civil Liberties Union and was taken to court this past April. Activists are pushing for Colorado to follow Rhode Island, Illinois, Connecticut and California in adopting a Homeless Bill of Rights that overrides state camping laws.

Homeless activists have gathered outside of Rock Bottom for the last couple months. The restaurant is just one target on a long list of businesses. The plan is to protest every store or restaurant associated with the Downtown Denver Partnership. The goal is to get the businesses to pull out of their membership. This may ultimately lead to a repeal on the ban. Other protest targets are Snooze: an A.M. Eatery and the Tattered Cover.

When the ban was first passed, Denver Police Chief Robert White told the Denver Post that he expected the police to have a light touch when they cited people. Arrests would come only as last resort. That narrative is now challenged by personal accounts of the homeless sweeps.

“They’ll ticket you, harass you, steal your belongings, tell you that you can go pick them up and they’re nowhere to be found,” Paris said.

Ally Kyle Johnson protests for homeless rights most Fridays in hopes that the Urban Camping Ban will be replaced with another law like the Homeless Bill of Rights.

“Sleeping in an alleyway, trying to get under a box, or sleeping in a dumpster or on a park bench, these are the things that are a thousand dollar fine or a year in jail,” Johnson said.

The ordinance is meant to serve as a disincentive from camping on business property and to instead take advantage of the city’s shelters. Johnson explained why many people choose to sleep on the street instead.

“Spend a few nights in a homeless shelter,” Johnson said. “Tell me you don’t smell feet and ass. The shelters are very uncomfortable and very dehumanizing.”

Another ally, Ana Cornelius, has been actively protesting the ban for the past three years with her two young daughters. She grew up in Venezuela where she began protesting at the age of five. She said that she learned from a young age that she didn’t have the choice not to.

“We have to stand up for our rights or it’ll all be eroded,” Cornelius said.

Her long history of activism now is put toward repealing the Urban Camping Ban.

“There’s some basic things that humans need. We would never deny a human being air water or food so why deny them rest?” Cornelius said.

Until the repeal of the camping ordinance or the ratification of the Homeless Bill of Rights, Denver’s homeless and their allies will continue to protest on Friday nights.

Author: Ali Watkins

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