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ACLU to Denver Police: Stop Taking Blankets from Homeless People

DENVER – The ACLU of Colorado sent a letter to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and the Denver City Council today responding to widely-circulated videos (video1, video2) showing Denver Police taking blankets, tents, and survival gear from people experiencing homelessness as “evidence” of violations of the Denver camping ban, which criminalizes sleeping outside with a blanket, sleeping bag, or any other form of cover or shelter.

The letter demands that the City immediately (1) direct its police officers to cease confiscation of blankets and other survival gear possessed by people experiencing homelessness, (2) suspend enforcement of the Denver Urban Camping Ban through the winter months, using that time to explore alternative approaches to homelessness that do not criminalize people for having nowhere they can afford to live and (3) end the coordinated sweeps of people experiencing homelessness, whether they are conducted through police, public works, private security, all of the above, or any other means.

“It is not an inherent crime to sleep outside, and many people right now have no other viable option. Denver’s shelters are simply unable to serve all people in the Denver area experiencing homelessness, even in the short term, much less as a long-term solution. Until real solutions become Denver’s priority, the city’s ongoing policing-first approach to homelessness is a cruel waste of funds, curtailing fundamental constitutional rights, causing deep human suffering, and endangering lives,” ACLU of Colorado Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley wrote in the letter, which was sent by email this afternoon to Mayor Hancock, members of the City Council, and other relevant Denver officials.

On July 1, CBS4 Denver reported that the City of Denver paid Custom Environmental Services, Inc., an outside contractor, from a fund that included private charitable donations – most notably, donations made through meters around the city and at Denver International Airport – for work crews to confiscate the possessions of unhoused people during controversial anti-homeless sweeps initiated by Mayor Hancock.

“While Denver is home to many people of good will who value freedom, compassion, and care for all people, especially those in the most vulnerable circumstances, the City of Denver’s record on the treatment of people experiencing homelessness is abominable. From the inappropriate use of a Homeless Services Donations Fund to forcibly move, harass, and take the property of unhoused persons to increasingly aggressive sweeps of people experiencing homelessness, ratcheting up arrests of people whose only crime is to have nowhere to live, and now the use of police resources to confiscate blankets and survival gear on bitter cold nights, the City of Denver is exhibiting a level of cruelty that should bring deep shame to Mayor Hancock and other city officials,” wrote Woodliff-Stanley.

Resources: 

Read the ACLU of Colorado letter: http://static.aclu-co.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/2016-12-09-Denver-Mayor-ACLU.pdf

CBS4: City Used Homeless Donations to Assist with Homeless Sweep: http://denver.cbslocal.com/2016/06/30/city-used-homeless-donations-to-assist-with-homeless-sweep/

Visit the ACLU of Colorado End Criminalization of Homelessness Campaign Page: http://aclu-co.org/campaigns/criminalization-homelessness/



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