[Hpn] ALERT: Denver mayor seeks law to limit panhandling, make downtown "civil" FWD make downtown "civil" FWD

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Tue, 16 May 2000 21:17:39 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  Denver Rocky Mountain News / May 16, 2000


     Homeless advocates want city to focus on housing,
     not just insobriety, begging

     By Kevin Flynn
     Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

Mayor Wellington Webb is moving to crack down on public drunkenness and
aggressive panhandlers in Denver.

It's part of an effort to make downtown seem safer to visitors, the mayor
said Monday as he endorsed recommendations from his Downtown Safety Task
Force, which included private agencies serving the homeless.

Webb, anticipating challenges from advocates for the homeless and the poor,
said he wants downtown to be diverse, but also civil.

"Respecting the rights of all people is important," Webb said. "At the same
time, people who come downtown also have the right to be free from being
harassed, as some are. We're going to take the necessary steps to be sure
that happens."

Among other things, the package of ordinances would toughen disorderly
conduct laws to make it illegal to sit or sleep on busy sidewalks between 7
a.m. and midnight, and to panhandle aggressively during the day or at all
during the night.

Webb said his program, which must be approved by the City Council, will
have carrots as well as sticks.

In addition to gearing up the Denver CARES detoxification unit to a
24-hour, seven-day-a-week program, Webb's human services department will
try to find programs, treatments and housing for the added clients who may
come in.

"We can't have people on their own making their own rules of conduct," Webb
said. "If people need assistance, we need to get them to a detox unit."

Denver CARES currently runs between 11 a.m. and 3 a.m. Webb would add an
early morning shift.

The initiatives will be watched by potential critics of the crackdown,
including John Parvensky, president of the Colorado Coalition for the

"We'll look at the overall plan carefully," said Parvensky, "and ask that a
crackdown not be taken in isolation but in conjunction with a real
long-term solution to the lack of affordable housing in Denver."

Parvensky said the central city has lost 5,000 low-income housing units
over 20 years of demolition and gentrification.

"I don't think any of us would support another person's right to be
aggressive in panhandling, but it all comes back to how do you deal with
the problem of homelessness," Parvensky said.

Webb said expanding Denver CARES to an around-the-clock operation would
cost about $240,000. He also proposes adding two more police officers to
the downtown beat and expanding litter cleanup for a total cost of about

Shepard Nevel, an aide to Webb, said the measures the administration is
proposing are based on models of ordinances used in other cities and tested
in courts.

In New York City, Mayor Rudolph Guiliani started a "quality of life"
crackdown in Times Square in 1992, using a business improvement district
with its own security force and a community court to handle complaints of
panhandling, petty crime and pornography.

But some there say it's been too aggressive, including cracking down on
street vendors not officially approved by the local businesses. Nevel said
much of Denver's problem stems from a core population of substance abusers,
primarily alcoholics on the streets, for whom the city intends to find
better help.

Of Denver CARES's 23,000 annual visits, 19,500 of them come from 2,500
repeaters, he said.

Police Division Chief Dan O'Hayre said crime is going down but the
perception of safety hasn't necessarily improved along with it.

"We believe downtown is safe but we also want to improve the perception
some people have that it could be safer," said O'Hayre, who oversees the
patrol division.


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