Weed Legalization Exacerbates Homeless Crisis in Denver

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19 degrees and a foot of snow & Denver Police is forcing homeless folks out of their tents - Image via Unicorn Riot

19 degrees and a foot of snow & Denver Police is forcing homeless folks out of their tents – Image via Unicorn Riot

The situation in Denver has long passed the tipping point; since recreational marijuana was legalized in 2013 it is estimated that over 10,000 people a month are moving to this city. While not solely to blame, recreational marijuana is a major driving factor, compounded by poor urban planning and the lack of will to offer services & housing desperately needed to un-housed folk.

Unlike other cities that have seen massive gentrification there are no rent control laws in Denver, it is enshrined into the state constitution, so landlords can essentially do whatever they want. It was not uncommon for renters in Denver to see their rent go up from 30% to 100% from 2013-2014. This displaced countless working people and caused the homeless population to skyrocket.

The largest population of homeless people, and the most common center of convergence is the area around the Denver Rescue Mission. Driving past this area at any point over the past 5 years, it eerily looked like a camp that one might find on the outskirts of a warzone or environmental catastrophe. That is because it is. Most of the services that provide for homeless people are in this area, and as a result, this area is where they gather. Ironically, the goods & services that people there value the most don’t come from the local “charities”, but from the good samaritans who frequent the area and distribute toothbrushes, socks, cigarettes and food. Since marijuana legalization, the city blocks surrounding this area have been fully re-developed with modern-style homogenized lofts, perfect for the upwardly mobile young people flooding this city with their blandness & money. Over the past few months, angry gentrifiers have colluded with the local neighborhood association to break this community up.

Unlike other large “liberal” cities, homeless-ness has essentially been made illegal here. In 2012, the city passed an urban camping ban which made sleeping under any sort of cover( blanket, tent, etc.) punishable for up to a year in jail. The city uses the threat of the camping ban as the backdrop to harass and intimidate this vulnerable population, and will usually just charge people they want to fuck with with various petty civil offenses. Denver Homeless Out Loud has done extensive polling on the issue and its results can be found here.

On Tuesday December 14th, with no advanced warning, the Denver Police showed up at 6AM at the area around the Denver Rescue Mission, and started kicking people, telling them they had to go, telling them “It’s over, don’t come back unless you want to be arrested.” At that point everyone there was notified that had to leave immediately and could only bring what they could fit in 2 bags. Everything else would be confiscated by the city and destroyed. This is a place where hundreds of people have lived for years, and in the blink of an eye, when no one was looking, Denver Storm-troopers came in, confiscated and demolished their personal belongings, almost a week before christmas, in 5 degree weather. We went down there with Denver Homeless Out Loud and got eye-witness testimonials and their stories are horrifying.

Why would anyone rather sleep outside in the winter, than go into a shelter? Almost every person we spoke to complained of bed bugs, theft, and the dismal authoritarian conditions found within the shelters. Obviously something is seriously wrong if pregnant women & disabled people would rather sleep on a sidewalk than a charity-provided-bed. The stories we heard are heartbreaking. Why are so many disabled people left to suffer it out on their own with no assistance, in a place of such abundance & economic growth? Why would the city do something so heartless?

The city of Denver has taken quite a few PR hits in the last few months. One can only assume that since they’ve already taken it in the chin, they might as well just go in gangbusters and do whatever the fuck they want to reshape the city since they already look like Gestapos, content to deal with the consequences later.

In October, Denver Housing Authority, in collaboration with the city & Tree House development, oversaw the destruction of a tiny homes village called Resurrection Village. Resurrection Village was built for and by homeless folks. The city arrested 10 people who refused to leave. A few weeks ago Denver Police evicted the 2nd encampment of Resurrection Village in a snowstorm. Over the past month, cops have shot someone almost every week, and thanks to so called “community organizers” that have been fully co-opted by the state power apparatus, little to no resistance has been seen aside from a few rally’s and photo-ops. In the midst of the recent upheaval in Chicago, Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock showed public support for his buddy Rahm Emmanual.

Clearly both Rahm and Michael agree on one of Rahm’s most famous maxims; “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

It is unthinkable that city officials allow human beings to be treated this inhumanely as unbridled, hyper-capitalist-urban-development destroys working class neighborhoods and our most vulnerable communities. We often hear the question, “Move along to where?” when folks talk about the urban camping ban, but now the city has its answer; “oblivion.”

Denver Homeless Out Loud has put a call out of actionable steps they are asking people from all over to do take to help them in their efforts: Please call district 6 Police department at 720-913-2800 and ask the police to… Stop kicking people out and moving people “away,” stop pretending like there are enough shelter beds for all those who are homeless or that people can be forced to go to a shelter as if it is a jail. Stop throwing away people’s belongings including survival winter gear. Please call the Mayor’s office at 720-865-9090 and tell him this is not the way enlightened cities are addressing homelessness. They are allocating funds and getting low income housing built quickly. Please call your city councilperson at 720-337-2000 and tell them to stop this disrespectful inhumane way of treating Denver’s homeless residents. Please call the Governor’s office at 303-866-2471 and tell him the people of Colorado need the Right to Rest! Read their full press release here

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Jennifer Baker is the founder and editor of Revolution News - Contact us with inquiries, tips, corrections at - revnewsmedia@gmail.com