According to the Denver Westword News, two women were confronted by police at the
16th Street Mall when trying to help out homeless individuals. One of the women gave a
homeless man a hamburger and a dollar in front of two undercover police officers. One
of the police officers proceeded to chase her down and forced her back to where she gave
the homeless man the burger. One undercover officer said that he could arrest her for
giving money and food to a panhandler after dark. When she questioned that such a law
exists and asked to see his badge, the police refused to do so and told her to leave.
The other incident involved a woman who purchased a fleece blanket for a man she saw
sitting in a wheelchair outside of the mall. The Denver Westword News reported that
when she tried to give the man the blanket, an officer told her to stop and asked her for
identification. While the police confronted her, the man in the wheelchair left. She was
subsequently arrested for interfering with law enforcement.
Both incidents were reported and disciplinary action was taken against the officers
involved. Since the incidents, the patrolling of the 16th Street Mall has increased.
As part of the city’s ten-year plan to end homelessness, Mayor John Hickenlooper has
installed 86 refurbished parking meters where passersby can donate money to homeless
service providers. According to USA Today, Hickenlooper has stated that he believes
that when people give directly to homeless individuals, “99% [of the money] is being
used for self-destructive consumption,” namely drugs and alcohol. Every $1.50 collected
by the meter will cover the cost of one meal for a homeless person. According to The
Colorado Star, a local newspaper, people in Denver give as much as $4.5 million each
year to panhandlers.
In the past year, people have responded to anti-panhandling campaigns by looking for
alternative places to donate their spare change such as “parking meters” for homeless
services. USA Today reported that in the first six months, the meters collected $8,446.50
in coins. Businesses and individuals can also donate $1,000 a year by “adopting” a
meter. USA Today also reported that since beginning the “Please Help, Don’t Give”
campaign two years ago, panhandling on the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall is down 92%,
and the city has placed about 300 families in permanent housing.
Denver’s ten-year plan includes establishing a homeless court for unsheltered homeless
people to challenge tickets, asking religious congregations to offer comprehensive
support to people in need, and building more affordable housing.