Camping ban has harmed quality of life of homeless, according to professor's report

University Communications

Political science professor Tony Robinson discusses his homeless report at press conference

By Chris Casey | University Communications

DENVER – Although troubled by detailed findings about how the city’s homeless are dealing with the year-old camping ban, a Denver City Councilwoman said the report serves as a foundation for redoubling efforts to help the homeless.

Susan Shepherd delivered comments at a Wednesday press conference for the release of “The Denver Camping Ban: A Report from the Street.” The 80-page report was written by University of Colorado Denver political science Associate Professor Tony Robinson in collaboration with the Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL) community group.

Scenes from ‘Report from the Streets’ press conference:

The controversial camping ban, passed 9-4 by the council last May, has harmed the quality of life of homeless individuals living in the city, according to the document.

“We need to roll up our sleeves and figure out how we can come together,” Shepherd said. “Every one in this room can each do something to make this situation better … We can volunteer in lots of ways and work on solutions.”

Robinson, Ph.D., chairman of the CU Denver political science department, highlighted the report’s findings at the gathering at the St. Francis Center. Attendees included Denver City Council members Shepherd and Paul Lopez, Tom Leuhrs, executive director of the St. Francis Center, advocates for the homeless, social service providers and many members of Denver’s homeless community. Shepherd and Lopez voted against enacting the camping ban.

A key finding of the report is that the Unauthorized Camping Ordinance has moved the homeless from downtown business and park areas, but failed to improve shelter and outreach services. Mainly, the homeless are told to “move along” by police, forcing them into less-safe hiding areas.

“We passed a law that was meant to improve life for homeless people — that was its stated goal,” Robinson said. “The law was very effective in cleaning up 16th Street … and Civic Center Park. But when we look at the data, is it connecting people to services? No, not very well. Is it improving their life? No, the opposite. That’s data and we need to face it.”

The report’s data came from results of surveys completed by 512 of Denver’s homeless. That’s about 10 percent of the city’s homeless population, Robinson said, adding, “We reached a representative group. We can count on these results.”

DHOL members surveyed homeless individuals in November and December. To read the full “Denver Camping Ban: A Report from the Street” report click here.

Shepherd thanked Robinson for giving the homeless a voice — something she said was missing when the City Council deliberated the camping ban last spring. She said Denver is reviewing its inclusionary housing ordinance in order to create more affordable units, as well as looking at sustainable funding sources for additional affordable housing and homeless services. “This (report) is hurtful, and it will continue to be hurtful until we can figure our how to deliver services better,” she said.

Meanwhile, Denver is in the seventh year of a 10-year effort to end homelessness. In that period, Denver’s Road Home has added 2,653 new housing opportunities for the homeless. Also, the organization has housed 1,992 men, women and youth through its street outreach efforts.

Councilman Lopez, a CU Denver alumnus, agreed that much more needs to be done. He said, “I remember learning in one of Tony’s political science classes that one of the greatest measures of a society is how it treats the weakest among us. This (camping ban) is not a good measure for the city.”

(Photo at top: Assistant Professor Tony Robinson, chairman of the CU Denver political science department, highlights details of his report, “Denver Camping Ban: A Report from the Streets” at a press conference April 3.)


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