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Criminalization of the Poor: A Case Study in Colorado

In an article titled “Downtown ‘Problems’ Might not Exist,” the Colorado Springs Business Journal offers another classic example of how commercial interests contribute to the criminalization of homeless people.

The basic formula:

Step 1: Foment unreasonable fear of street people.

Step 2: Employ punitive measures to “manage” them.

The Business Improvement District and Downtown Partnership have set aside $137,000 to address problems caused by the street population by hiring off-duty police officers to patrol downtown, but neither the groups nor the police department have any statistical data to show that “problems” truly exist …

In a white paper entitled “Street People Letter,” [Beth] Kosley, the Downtown Partnership’s executive director, cites several “facts” as reasons why the partnership and the BID need to address the “problem” of the street population.

“Worse, the most recent reports we have received speak to actual physical threats to safety, in the form of mugging, a baby-snatching attempt and robbery in a home by an assailant,” the report says.

When asked about the mugging, baby-snatching attempt and robbery, Kosley referred to the incidents as “anecdotal,” but Gold Hill [Police] Commander Kurt Pillard used another term: urban legend …

Who are “those people”—those men with backpacks and sleeping bags that are causing such alarm that, according to the Downtown Partnership’s white paper, they scared a woman back into her car just by their presence outside the main door of the Penrose Library?

According to Homeward Pikes Peak director Bob Holmes, about 85 percent of the Pike Peak region’s 1,450 homeless are “crisis homeless”—women and children left without homes temporarily. The other 15 percent are chronically homeless …

“It’s important to remember that 62 percent of the people who eat at the Marian House once a day are not homeless,” he said. “They’re the working poor—they have jobs—or they’re retired on fixed incomes. They can afford a place to live, but can’t always afford food.” ...

Michael Stoops, acting director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, D.C. said the Downtown Partnership’s and BID’s measures are “draconian.”

“There are ways to address the problem that are less expensive,” he said. “If they hired civilian outreach workers to intervene, mediate disputes, do case management, it would be cheaper. Some cities—such as Fort Lauderdale—have tried this and been very successful.”

Read the complete article here:

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