COVER STORY Denver homeless campaign ban 300 trash

An unidentified woman clears trash from a makeshift homeless camp near the Denver Rescue Mission on March 7, 2016, ahead of a city eviction of people living on the street in the area.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones and colleagues of a Denver Rescue Mission staffer who was stabbed Saturday outside the northeast Denver shelter where he worked and died later at a local hospital. The victim’s identity had not yet been released by authorities as of Monday, but a suspect was arrested.

As reported by The Gazette, Christopher Christian, 22, was taken into custody by Denver police on suspicion of first-degree murder. He had previously stayed at the shelter but was kicked out for 30 days after being involved in a fight at the facility, according to an arrest affidavit. The incident occurred Saturday evening at the Denver Rescue Mission’s men's shelter at 4600 E. 48th Ave. 

While workplace-related violence is a possibility at any kind of employer, those who staff shelters for people in crisis — whether due to homelessness, domestic violence, addiction, mental health issues or other challenges — face a substantially higher risk. That’s due to a variety of factors; among them are pathologies like addiction and mental illness that all too often afflict the chronically homeless population that shelters seek to serve.

Last weekend’s tragedy is precisely the kind of chilling scenario that opponents of Denver’s new “group living” policy had warned against. And the slaying occurred just weeks after Denver voters turned aside a ballot effort to repeal group living after it was imposed on residents earlier this year by the City Council.

The policy adopted by the council sextupled the area of the city where homeless shelters and halfway houses may open. It scrapped a buffer between Denver’s schools and halfway houses. It permitted up to five unrelated residents — tenants, really — in any single-family home. Homeowners in relatively peaceful neighborhoods now fear the radical and ruinous new policy will undermine the city’s neighborhoods and jeopardize their quality of life. They’re right.

We’ve predicted the city now can look forward to more cars and trash cans lining the curbs of once-quiet residential streets. There will be more overall noise and congestion, as well. What was once a next-door neighbor’s single-family home on a quiet cul de sac could be rented out to multiple parties — without any of the infrastructure to support it.

What’s more, group living will mean a homeless shelter or even a halfway house could open in a strip mall near your house. It could be next to day cares, schools, rec centers and the like. And the facilities will usher in the chaos associated with populations that long have lived on the edge of society — the noise, squalor, drug and alcohol abuse, violence and, yes, sometimes homicide.

As we noted prior to the election, City Hall’s group-living scheme started with a fundamentally flawed premise — that packing a lot more people into single-family dwellings somehow would constitute “affordable housing.” It evolved rapidly into a disaster in waiting when the council extended the measure to halfway houses and homeless shelters in the name of “equity.” Instead of clustering those facilities in industrial parts of town where they can efficiently serve their segments of the population without wreaking havoc on others, this sweeping rewrite of the zoning code unleashes them on retail and residential areas.

The Denver Rescue Mission’s 48th Avenue shelter of course predates the group-living policy that the council shoehorned into Denver’s zoning code. It is located, appropriately, in a light-industrial area of warehouses where Saturday’s terrible incident after hours was unlikely to have an impact on neighbors. The same goes of more workaday unruly behavior near Denver’s other homeless shelters.

Now, it could be coming to a nearby shopping center where you do your banking, shop for groceries or take your kids to play laser tag.

The earnest and dedicated Denverites who spent months collecting signatures and informing friends and neighbors in order to place a repeal of group living on the local ballot were scoffed at and even ridiculed by City Council members and others. They were accused of fear-mongering and of typecasting the homeless and worse. These citizen activists’ concerns were waved off.

The wanton taking of a life is tragic in any setting, but it also is telling when it occurs at a homeless shelter. It reminds us of the perils inherent in providing that important community service. And it makes clear, anew, why it doesn’t belong around Denverites’ schools, parks and homes.