Hiding the Homeless – The Histrionics of Political Corrrectness – Outa’ Sight, Outa’ Mind

dsc02274.jpgStuart Steers, reporting in this morning’s Rocky Mountain News, tells us that during Denver’s hosting of the Democratic National Convention in August, 2008,

“The city will open an emergency shelter normally used during
winter deep freezes, and keep other shelters in the city open 24 hours during the August gathering. In addition, an army of outreach workers will fan out across downtown to persuade the homeless to come inside during the convention. …Special attention will be paid to the ‘security zone’  around the Pepsi Center, which includes the South Platte River, a favorite campground for the homeless.”

The city’s read on this issue is typical spin. Roxanne White, Denver’s Manager of Human Services, according to Steers noted that, “…the effort is motivated by security concerns and is not just an effort to spruce up Denver’s image at a time when the city will be under a media spotlight.”

“Security concerns,” huh. Homeless gonna attack the Pepsi Center with grocery carts?

The picture, above, shows homeless folk just takin’ it easy across the street from the Fourteenth Street entrance to the Colorado Convention Center in July, 2005. There was a convention at the time, and the attendees were, yes, navigating their way to the CCC over and around the snoozers on the sidewalk.

By 2005, the homeless issue was nothing new.

In 2001, a mere snippet of the issue was articulated in a memorandum to Mayor Wellington Webb’s Chief of Staff, Wayne Cauthen:

SUBJECT: City and County Building – Inappropriate Use of Grated Areas and General

Donna Good and Karen Miller of Denver Human Services, POB Manager Margo Blu, Capt. Mike Battista, Police District 6 Commander, and I met on Thursday, April 5th, to discuss the issue of the individuals who utilize the City and County Building “grated” areas for sleeping and lavatory purposes.

Ms. Blu advised that the problems related to this “use” of the City and County Building continue, including the recent necessity to replace a compressor that had burned-out due to urine saturation. Ms. Blu also related that arguments and fights amongst individuals who “use” the City and County Building continue and that a recent altercation led to the breakage of several windows. While the number of homeless has significantly decreased with the warmer weather, the 14th Avenue side of the building remains a magnet for people who are often engaged in selling drugs and sex to tenants of the homeless housing across the street.

Ms. Blu provided the participants of the meeting with written “legal” guidance from the City Attorney’s Office with regard to the ability of City authority to declare that a person is “trespassing,” and, therefore, eligible for arrest. We discussed the possibility that the City’s contract security could be identified as “City authority,” rather than requiring a City employee to serve in that capacity. Unfortunately, Assistant City Attorney John Poley confirmed that because the City Charter states that Public Office Buildings is responsible for the management of City buildings, only POB employees are authorized to call in the Police to enforce the trespassing ordinance. Strategies for dealing with this issue were discussed and a determination was made that Ms. Good would pursue guidance from you and report your decision back to us.

The Issue
The issue continues to be the inappropriate use of the City and County Building, and to a lesser extent, the McNichols Building and 280-14th Street, by persons who are apparently homeless. The congregation of persons who utilize the City and County Building for these inappropriate uses has caused numerous altercations; damage to the building and sanitary and health issues with regard urine and defecation. Plans were made a year ago to begin enforcing the trespassing ordinance. Unfortunately, those plans were leaked to the homeless community, and negative press ensued.

Current City Response
Signs have been posted around the City and County Building advising that no loitering is allowed. Each morning, the City’s contract security tours the perimeter of the City and County Building and advises those persons who have chosen to “loiter” on the grounds or grates that it is time to “move on.” If there are violent or obviously illegal activities in progress, the City’s contract security will call the Police Department for assistance. The Police can take action when illegal activities occur, but they cannot enforce the trespassing ordinance without the signature of a POB employee on the trespassing complaint. The trespassing ordinance is not being enforced at this time.

1) Continue the “Current City Response,” which provides no solution to the problem.
2) Begin enforcing the trespassing ordinance by having POB’s night custodial supervisors (with contract security backup) to patrol the building perimeters every night, ask the homeless to disperse and call District 6 if they don’t comply. If the homeless refuse to move when asked to do so by the Police, they would be arrested.
3) Enforce the ordinance as described in No. 2 above, but patrol only a few times a week on a random basis.
4) Begin enforcing the ordinance, but also include Denver Human Services on the nightly patrols to provide the homeless with advice on where shelters are located; offer transportation to shelters; provide hotel or meal vouchers.

We recommend Solution No. 3. If we begin enforcing the ordinance now in a low-key manner when there are fewer people, and we do so only on a periodic basis, we might avoid or postpone negative publicity. By the time cold weather arrives, POB staff and the Police will have established a routine process for enforcement. We can begin nightly enforcement at that time. Hopefully, the homeless will be accustomed to moving when asked to do so.

Okay. So, the insufferable bureaucrat (hereafter referred to as “IB”), who wrote this memorandum and who was serving at the time as the Acting Director of Public Office Buildings (the former director having retired shortly before), understood well the knee-jerks that would be engendered by the issue at hand. Indeed, could it have been discussed in the noted meeting, that most mornings when Public Office Building employees settled into their digs in the basement of the City and County Building, they had, by 2001, become quite accustomed to the piles of human feces within the wells of their windows that set below the aforementioned grates on the Fourteenth Avenue side of the C&C Building? No need to speculate on the source of the yellow tinge that covered those same windows. So, the IB–having long-before learned the survival skills necessary to maintain his incumbency within the bureaucracy–endorsed a solution most assuredly intended not to rile the media and, of course, certainly encompassing the Human Services caveat that the homeless were there to be helped, not maligned and public monies would assure that God would remain in his heaven and all would be right with the world…errant feces and piss notwithstanding.

Let us slip-slide into 2005.

The IB, in 2005, having left the onerous demands of public servanthood, traipsed early one Sunday morning from his West Highlands abode to downtown Denver and, yes, caught the bevy of homeless folks reposing upon the sidewalk across the street from the Colorado Convention Center (see picture). So, the ex-IB emailed MileHighMayor (the supposed hotline to the Hick) and asked the relevant question: Why are these homeless folks allowed to provide our out-of-town guests an insight into the underbelly of our otherwise beautiful city?

The Response:

Dear Mr. ,

Thank you for taking time to forward the photo of homeless individuals sleeping on the sidewalk in downtown Denver. Will you please tell me what the exact location was, so I can notify our outreach worker, Mike McManus to ask him to go to that location, identify who the homeless individuals are, and make every attempt to get them connected to services. Our outreach workers generally know who the people are that sleep out on the streets (parks, under bridges, etc) and work with local service providers to get them off the streets, connected to overnight shelter, and other services such as the Stout Street Clinic to address mental illness and/or substance/alcohol abuse. If any of these individuals are homeless veterans, then we can connect them to a program administered by the Department of Human Services that links them to jobs and housing as well as treat the root cause(s) of why they are homeless.

I will wait to hear from you so Mr. McManus can do the appropriate follow up.

Deborah Ortega
Executive Director
Commission to End Homelessness

Then, from the Denver Police Department:

Thank you for sharing the picture with me. I am the police commander for the area you describe. I wanted to share with you that nothing in the picture is illegal. We are trying to get a sitting and lying ordinance written in Denver but currently we have no tool to adequately address this issue. There is a brand new law that was passed only about 1 month ago that if they are completely blocking a sidewalk then we can cite them. In this particular case they would not be in violation of that law.

I understand how frustrated you are and the City is trying to work through this complex issue. I always encourage people if they believe they are seeing something illegal to call the police. Please use the 720.913.2000 number for non life threatening and of course 911 for a life threatening issue. We continue to try and address the issues as they arise.
Commander Deborah Dilley
District 6
Denver Police Department

Okay. Now, 2007, Hick’s homeless initiative is so extraordinarily successful, that “…an army of outreach workers will fan out across downtown to persuade the homeless to come inside during the [2008 Democratic National] convention.” Un-huh. An army? Kinda like a surge? But, I thought shock and awe came first. Then, Mission Accomplished. (But, then, the Hick has, indeed, declared Denver’s Road Home well on its way to success.) Then the surge. Right? And, what about this “…come inside…” stuff? It will be August. It will be hot. The banks of the Platte are never so soothing as during those dog day afternoons.

Good people pour their hearts and souls into solving this complex issue. I applaud them. I applaud those of us who pay a goodly sum in taxes to support this incontrovertible worthy component of a civilized society. But, please, don’t out one side of your mouth spew the gospel of PC, while, out the other, mask the herding of the unsightly from the sensibilities of the effete and call it a security measure. Please. Give us more credit than that.

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