POLITICS

Denver Mayor Decides Police Probably Shouldn't Confiscate Homeless' Blankets While It's Freezing Out

The call came after advocacy groups threatened a lawsuit and a video of officers taking away blankets went viral.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock (D) announced Saturday that local police will stop confiscating personal property while enforcing the city’s “camping ban” during the cold winter months ― allowing homeless men and women sleeping on the streets to keep their blankets and tents till the end of April.

The ordinance, which was approved by the Denver City Council in 2012, prohibits unauthorized camping on public and private property. It poses a particular threat to the city’s homeless population, who use blankets and tents during the freezing winter months to keep warm. The mayor said police will continue to enforce the ban, which can come with a hefty fine, but will cease confiscating personal property through the winter.

“As a city, we have a responsibility and moral obligation to protect the lives of our residents,” Hancock said in a statement. “Urban camping ― especially during cold, wet weather ― is dangerous and we don’t want to see any lives lost on the streets when there are safe, warm places available for people to sleep at night. Every night, we have beds open for people to sleep and every day we have safe places and resources to help people experiencing homelessness.”

The Denver Post reported that civil rights organizations and attorneys threatened a federal lawsuit on Friday. The “camping ban” also made headlines late last month, when a video of officers enforcing it was posted to Facebook by entrepreneur Kayvan S. T. Khalatbari and went viral. 

According to the mayor’s office, police have confiscated blankets and camping equipment from only three people. They were sleeping outside the City and County Building as part of a Nov. 28 protest against the ban. In other incidents, police issued citations but did not remove property.

Proponents of the law say the ordinance encourages homeless individuals to seek out services. And officials say individuals are warned more than once before officers sweep sidewalks, give citations or confiscate property. But critics argue the law unfairly targets the city’s homeless population and does little to actually help those experiencing homelessness. An advocacy group calling for the immediate suspension of the “camping ban” calls itself “Move Along To Where?”

Over the past two weeks, police issued nine citations to seven individuals, but say they gave “multiple notifications” to individuals before doing so. Hancock’s announcement was widely received as a win for the city’s homeless population.

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