DENVER — A proposed initiative would drastically change the way homeless people live in the city of Denver. Initiative 300 would end the city’s camping ban implemented in 2012.
Also known as “Right to Survive,” Initiative 300 is on Denver’s May ballot. Its supporters say that by ending the camping ban, it would allow Denverites experiencing homelessness to have safe places to eat and sleep.
At 27th and Arapahoe streets is an area known as Jerryville, as a man named Jerry Burton is a caretaker of sorts for people who have made a grassy patch along the sidewalk their home.
About 20 people live in tents in Jerryville, including Burton.
“This is my bedroom, my living room, my kitchen. It’s all in one. I keep a lot of extra things for people who might not be able to make it or a rainy day like this,” Burton said of his tent.
Burton said that he and others in Jerryville would be pleased if Initiative 300 passes.
“It could help, because it’s not only the right thing to do. It’s the moral thing to do,” Burton said.
Raffi Mercuri, the campaign manager for the Right to Survive Initiative Committee, said the proposal is a matter of basic human dignity.
“These are human beings. I’m sorry, I know this is not a pleasant issue and I don’t think anyone debates that, but homelessness is not a pleasant issue and we can’t pretend like it doesn’t exist,” he said.
According to the proponents’ website, the purpose of the proposal is as follows:
“The purpose of this section is to secure and enforce basic rights for all people within the jurisdiction of the City and County of Denver, including the right to rest and shelter
oneself from the elements in a non-obstructive manner in public spaces, to eat, share, accept or give food in any public space where food is not prohibited, to occupy one’s
own legally parked motor vehicle or occupy a legally parked motor vehicle belonging to another, with the owner’s permission, and to have a right and expectation of privacy
and safety of or in one’s person and property.”
However, some are concerned that if passed, Initiative 300 would turn parks into campgrounds.
Alvina Vasquez from Together Denver No on 300 says the proposed ordinance has a number of problems.
“I think that creates health and safety issues. Plus, folks that enjoy the parks for other reasons, besides the living space,” she said.
According to language on the Downtown Denver Partnership’s website, opponents believe the initiative would “endanger public safety, quality of life and the economic vitality of our neighborhoods and our city.”
Jeff Shoemaker with the nonprofit Greenway Foundation is also concerned.
“Just one of the results from measure 300 is unchecked human waste, which will appear in every single one of our parks, our walkways, our public spaces,” Shoemaker said.
Yet Mercuri said that camping in parks would not occur because there is a curfew and the initiative would not override it.
“People cannot camp out in parks indefinitely,” he said.