Opponents of the city’s nearly 10-year-old urban camping ban delayed Monday’s Denver City Council meeting for about an hour after refusing to give up the podium in the council chambers at the end of the scheduled public comment period.

The group, roughly two dozen people in the chamber with more supporters on the street outside the City and County Building, called for the council to end the camping ban and do more to provide housing for people living on the street.

Wearing shirts that read “Denver’s decade of doom” the group referred to the ordinance, which has resulted in regular sweeps of homeless encampments around the city, a ban on survival.

“You’ve been subsidizing businesses, you have not been helping the homeless,” Robert Chase said during the half-hour public comment session Monday that was set to proceed the council’s scheduled 5:30 p.m. meeting.

Chase urged the council to claw back money from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and other agencies the city contracts to deliver services to people experiencing homelessness and use that money to instead build housing overseen and administered by the city itself.

Council President Stacie Gilmore allowed the public comment period to go past its normal ending time so Chase could speak but when the group refused to relinquish the podium after that, Gilmore called for a recess.

The council remained on break for roughly an hour while the advocates occupied the chamber. Many of the people in the room either previously had or are currently experiencing homelessness.

The group then held an informal strategy discussion about how to undo the camping ban and achieve their housing goals. District 9 Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca was the only council member who remained on the dais while the group talked.

Brian Loma, a longtime, vocal opponent of the camping ban, live streamed Monday’s chamber takeover on his YouTube channel. He spoke about the lack of public restrooms and drinking fountains for the unhoused in Denver.

“You can’t find water unless you have money,” Loma said. “You can’t use the bathroom unless you pay.”

Chase told the group that repealing the camping ban is unlikely. Advocates tried on the ballot box in 2019 with Initiative 300, a measure that failed by a more than 4-1 margin.  He argued people need to push the city to do more to provide housing.

CdeBaca urged the group to work to elect people who will represent their interests, noting that all 13 council seats and the mayor’s office are up for election next spring.

The councilwoman also led the group in a round of applause for the Denver Sheriff’s Department deputies for not clearing the chamber after the public comment period ended, letting people stay and talk instead.

“What I would say is that tonight you guys have been able to not only talk to me but talk to each other and build power,” CdeBaca said. “That’s what this is always about, building power.”

Jerry Burton, who had been at the center of the effort to repeal the camping ban at the ballot box in 2019, suggested the group become a fixture at future public comment sessions.

“We are going to be very disruptive in a very respectful way,” Burton said.

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Gilmore, after the council reconvened, said that fairness in a democratic process sometimes requires having time limits so everyone can have their say. She noted three rezoning hearings and a proclamation honoring the memory of former Denver Councilman Bill Himmelmann were on the agenda after public comment.

“We have to make sure we hear from everyone equally during our required meeting,” she said.

Outside the City and County Building on Bannock Street, people who occupied the chamber joined supporters who provided food, clothing and toiletries to people in need.

It was the second day in a week of programming around the 10-year anniversary of the camping ban, which was passed by a council vote on May 14, 2012. The program is set to culminate in a rally and march starting in front of the city and county building at 10 a.m. Saturday. The events are being organized by a coalition of groups that include Housekeys Action Network Denver, Occupy Denver and Headwaters Protectors.

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