DENVER–Garrett Flicker, the new Chairman of the Denver Republican Party, has filed a citizens’ initiative creating a new ordinance to prod the city into doing more to deal with the homeless problem in Denver.
Flicker, 25, elected in February, is the youngest Denver GOP Chairman to serve and also the first openly-gay Chairman.
If passed by voters, Flicker’s initiative will require the City and County of Denver to enforce existing laws against camping on public property, bans camping on private property “without express written consent of the owner or the owner’s agent” and then only allows private property camping where it would be otherwise legal under city ordinances.
It also gives private landowners the right to file a civil action against the city for failure to enforce ordinances against illegal camping on private property, if the city does not respond with enforcement action within 72 hours of a complaint.
The measure also provides an exception to the public property camping ban by allowing the city to set up no more than four areas for authorized public camping, each of which must be provided with lighting, running water and restroom facilities, including showers.
Dropping the ball on illegal camping
Flicker says this measure is necessary because Denver has not been taking care of city residents when it comes to illegal camping in the city.
“It’s this mindset where they want to make people comfortable and they don’t seem to want to enforce laws,” Flicker told Complete Colorado in an interview Friday. “It’s ultimately not doing good for the community.”
According to Flicker the city is ignoring the will of Denver residents, who voted overwhelmingly in 2018 to keep the city’s urban camping ban in place and in 2020 approved an additional sales tax to raise $40 million to help deal with the problems associated with uncontrolled camping.
“What this initiative seeks to do is is offer the City and County of Denver a road map to beginning to rein-in the situation,” said Flicker.
Flicker said, “We want to limit to four specific areas because realistically we think that will be manageable by the city. We don’t want to have a tragedy of the commons situation where other public spaces are being used to house homeless people. We don’t want to turn our parks into homeless camps.”
The initiative doesn’t specify the size, location or design of the camping areas, city government gets to decide how to respond to the ordinance so long as the basic criteria are met, one of which is that they must be funded with “city revenues to support the city’s homeless population.”
Flicker said the homeless situation cannot be fully resolved using public shelters.
“One of the most interesting things that we found is homeless people are untrusting of shelters. Their stuff gets stolen, they feel unsafe,” said Flicker. “For one person to have their own little tent, or to share their tent with an unmarried partner is much more palatable to these folks than than a shelter.”
Ideology trumps pragmatism
Flicker believes that part of the problem is an ideological focus on accommodating homelessness rather than really trying to resolve it.
“In the past what you’ve seen in Denver City Council is that they try to deal with the problem as an ideological matter versus a pragmatic one. That could be seen very clearly when a couple of years ago, they tried to set up safe injection sites. When you see stuff like that occurring, you really begin to think does that really help that community of people? Because they have a drug addiction letting them shoot up in a safe space? I mean, is that really practical going forward?”
Flicker says it’s time for Denver voters to speak up and tell the city what to do and demand enforcement of city ordinances, because what’s been happening has been ineffective at best.
“I mean obviously the rest of the community is incredibly upset. You can see that when in 2018 over eighty percent of the population voted to keep the urban camping ban, and over eighty percent of the population voted to increase taxes back in 2020 to help solve the problem. I think people are beginning to think that the city doesn’t care about about the general safety and well-being of people,” Flicker said. “I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from people who are tired of waking up in the morning and having having homeless people lined up along their apartments and on private property, and there’s just no law enforcement occurring.”
Flicker also thinks the city has been wasting money on projects that serve too few people.
“You know, renovating a hotel is fine, but I mean you’re going to spend millions of dollars just to stick maybe a hundred people in there,” Flicker said. “We’re talking about four thousand people that are currently on the housing list. Do I think the number’s higher? Absolutely. I’ve driven around the city, I think there’s more than 4,000. But that’s the official number and the solutions that have been offered don’t tackle this on large enough scale to help rein-in the problem.”
Flicker wants to make a bold move to provide safe, sanitary camping areas large enough to accommodate them.
“One of the things that this initiative is trying to do is get the bulk of the un-housed population into temporary housing where they will have safety lighting and basic sanitation,” Flicker said.
“This is a response to the neglect of the city of both the un-housed population and the citizens of Denver,” said Flicker. “There’s two parties that feel disenfranchised and the solutions that the City Council offered have done nothing but continue that disenfranchisement.”
The initiative, filed May 3, is now in the signature-gathering phase, and requires 8,265 valid signatures of registered Denver voters to make the November general election ballot. Petitions must be returned to the Denver Elections Division within 180 days of approval for circulation.
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