Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mall Rats, Drunks and Derelicts

Back in mid-July I took this picture of the street in downtown Denver that leads directly to the main entrance (right across the street) to the Colorado Convention Center.

I sent the following email to Denver's Mayor John Hickenlooper which explains the circumstances under which the picture was taken:

My partner and I took a city hike to downtown Denver this past Sunday with the specific intent to see the big blue bear at the Colorado Convention Center. We arrived there quite early in the morning -- probably no later than seven-forty. There was a convention going on at that time, with significant people walking the sidewalks to the CCC. It was disgraceful to see the drunks and derelicts spread out over the sidewalks over which the conventioneers were walking. Hopefully, you will be able to view the picture I took of this disgrace. What's up with this??

The response to my email came from the Denver Police Commander responsible for this particular area of Denver. She said:


Thank you for sharing the picture with me. I am the police commander for the area you describe. I wanted to share with you that nothing in the picture is illegal. We are trying to get a sitting and lying ordinance written in Denver but currently we have no tool to adequately address this issue. There is a brand new law that was passed only about 1 month ago that if they are completely blocking a sidewalk then we can cite them. In this particular case they would not be in violation of that law.

I understand how frustrated you are and the City is trying to work through this complex issue. I always encourage people if they believe they are seeing something illegal to call the police. Please use the 720.913.2000 number for non life threatening and of course 911 for a life threatening issue. We continue to try and address the issues as they arise.

Commander Deborah Dilley
District 6
Denver Police Department

My response to Commander Dilley was as follows:

Cmdr. Dilley:

Thank you for your timely response.

I'm sure you have a better understanding of what can and cannot legally be done about this issue. One would think that the loitering ordinance might, at least, be sufficient and defensible for officers to rouse these folks and ask them to move on before the conventioneers start walking down the sidewalks to the CCC.

It has become a complex issue due to the current (and past) administration's "pie in the sky" notions that the homeless want to be housed; that housing is the first step toward healing all the other demons that infest these unfortunate folks. I don't buy that argument. But, then, that's not your job, nor am I seeking comment.

I really think it is unfortunate that while Denver wishes to put its best face forward, so to speak, when conventioneers visit our wonderful city, that that face ain't so great when they're greeted with what my photo so vividly describes.

Again, thank you for your timely response. I appreciate it.


Then I received the following email from the Executive Director of Denver's commission to End Homelessness:

Dear George,
Thank you for taking time to forward the photo of homeless individuals sleeping on the sidewalk in downtown Denver. Will you please tell me what the exact location was, so I can notify our outreach worker, Mike McManus to ask him to go to that location, identify who the homeless individuals are, and make every attempt to get them connected to services. Our outreach workers generally know who the people are that sleep out on the streets (parks, under bridges, etc) and work with local service providers to get them off the streets, connected to overnight shelter, and other services such as the Stout Street Clinic to address mental illness and/or substance/alcohol abuse. If any of these individuals are homeless veterans, then we can connect them to a program administered by the Department of Human Services that links them to jobs and housing as well as treat the root cause(s) of why they are homeless.

I will wait to hear from you so Mr. McManus can do the appropriate follow up.

Deborah Ortega
Executive Director
Commission to End Homelessness

I began this post in the way that I did because it's instructive to point out, as the Commander noted, the lost souls sleeping on the sidewalk that morning were doing nothing illegal. In fact, the response to my suggestion that Denver's loitering ordinance be utilized to handle this problem was that, unfortunately, Denver's loitering ordinance has been ruled unconstitutional.

So, welcome conventioneers!

The "outreach" efforts described by Ms. Ortega are, of course, commendable. In fact, Denver's Mayor John Hickenlooper (the Hick)--not unlike a whole bevy of Democratic mayors around the country--is going to "end homelessness" in ten years at a cost to Denver's taxpayers of about $13 to $15Million. In fact, it appears that the Hick (or Huck--for Huckster) is proposing something over $1.5Million for the 2006 budget to begin this lofty program that, among other things, envisions building, I believe, over 3000 apartments or condos for the homeless.

Now, as well meaning as these folks are, do they really believe that in ten years we're not going to be seeing the same images as the above picture portrays? Are they really that naive? Not that one wouldn't hope to be able to end homelessness, but--and I haven't yet done my homework on this one--I have heard that many, many of these programs around the country have failed, and failed miserably...all on the taxpayer's dollar which, as we know, dwindles more and more each day.

Definition of Mall Rat: Slang
A person, especially a teenager or young adult, who frequently passes time wandering through shopping malls.

My friend Brian provided me with a copy of an email he sent to Mayor John Hickenlooper with regard to the outrageous behavior of Denver's mall rats who hang out around our 16th Street downtown mall and also haunt Lodo, bullying the patrons of bars and restaurants for money or handouts.

For example, my friend Brian took an out-of-town guest, who was attending a conference in Denver, to dinner one night. The young woman didn't finish all of her dinner, so she asked that it be boxed. A mall rat approached her and asked for her leftovers. She said no, and the mall rat proceeded to berate her for being fat and stupid and heartless for not helping out someone who was hungry.

Brian's email to the Mayor brought several emails from, once again, the well-meaning folks connected to the Hick's lofty idealism to end the outrage of homelessness, addiction, hunger and mental illness. Brian even got an email from a non-profit that works with "troubled" teens.

Okay, this post is getting a wee bit long. And, perhaps, I should do a two or three-partner. But, one stat I've heard is that since the inception of Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty," in about 1964, the Feds have spent in excess of $11Trillion in an attempt to, yes, end homelessness, addiction, hunger, poverty and give those on the bottom rung of society a step up, a helping hand, a pull on the bootstraps...all on the back of our tax dollars. Has it worked? Has any progress been made? I look to the 9th ward in New Orleans as exposed by the ravages of Katrina and ask that question again. Has it worked?

I don't know what the answer is, folks, but the Hick/Huck is, I believe, barking up the wrong tree. Throw money at it, he's concluded. I'm wondering if we--as a city and a nation--haven't been there, done that.

Isn't it time for maybe some new ideas. Isn't it time for maybe some new approaches that just might work to, at least, assure the image I captured this July (above) isn't still there ten years from now?

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