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Rescue Mission president urges ‘no’ on Denver Initiative 300: ‘Doesn’t help those living on the street’

DENVER–Denver Rescue Mission President and CEO Brad Meuli has urged Denver voters to reject Initiative 300, the s0-called “Right to Survive” initiative, saying, among other things, that the measure “does nothing to help those living on the street.”

Initiative 300 will appear on Denver’s May 7 municipal election ballot.  If passed, the measure would repeal Denver’s urban camping ban and permit sleeping–and even camping–on any public ground in the city.

“If voters decide to pass this, our job at Denver Rescue Mission becomes much more difficult,” Meuli wrote in a recent blog post. “I am afraid that our staff who go outside of our building to help people could be charged for harassment.”

Meuli’s concern for staff echoes worries expressed by others opposed to the measure.  According to Together Denver, a business-backed group that opposes Initiative 300, “The measure makes it illegal to “harass” anyone exercising his or her rights under the ordinance without providing a clear definition of what constitutes harassing behavior.  That ambiguity could have a chilling effect on programs designed to serve the homeless.”

“The trash surrounding our downtown buildings becomes more difficult to manage. Camping in public places becomes acceptable, park curfews become non-existent and unpermitted food distribution becomes tolerable. The health and safety of our community is threatened,” continues Meuli. “Sadly, Initiative 300 does nothing to help those living on the street.”

This sentiment, too, is shared by others opposed to the measure.  “Rather than getting people the help they need, it would encourage them to stay in a vulnerable and dependent state,” wrote Denver resident Joshua Sharf in an opinion piece for Complete Colorado.

In early March, the Denver Rescue Mission as an organization joined with a coalition of other homeless service providers to express their shared concerns. While careful to clarify that they are not aligned with either the opponents or proponents of Initiative 300, the group’s statement says, in part: “We are concerned that if the initiative becomes law, it will lower the prevailing standard of human welfare in our community, potentially reducing the expectation of ‘need’ met by our human service organizations, community members and government. Instead the focus will be sheer physical survival in outdoor spaces that are not suitable for human habitation.”

In addition to the Denver Rescue Mission, the coalition consists of Catholic Charities of Denver, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, The Delores Project, The Gathering Place, St. Francis Center, The Salvation Army, Urban Peak and Volunteers of America.

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless released its own, separate statement on Initiative 300 as well.  While unsurprisingly calling for much more money to be spent on homeless services, its statement calls the current system a “failure” and reads, in part: “CCH does not believe the solution to this failure should be to “institutionalize” encampments and street homelessness through a “right to be left alone” on the streets.”

(Editor’s note: All of Complete Colorado’s coverage and commentary on Initiative 300 can be found here.)

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