Boundaries and Barriers: Denver’s Policy Choices to Force Visible Poverty from Public View

Exclusionary land use policies have taken many forms in the state of Colorado, dating back to its colonization. These policies have evolved from the seizure of public and private land from native tribes, to Denver’s early urban beautification movement, to discriminatory zoning laws and practices, to the criminalization of survival behaviors commonly performed in public by members of the unhoused community.

To address the question of who has the right to use public space, this report examines Denver’s use of Area Restriction Orders (AROs) and encroachments in the public right-of-way (ROW). An ARO is a court-issued directive that prevents the restricted party from accessing designated geographical locations. A ROW encroachment refers to private “improvements” that are in, or intrude into, the public area between sidewalks and streets (the right-of-way). Whether intended through inter-agency coordination or as a consequence of distinct policies, Denver citizens, businesses, and government exploit AROs and ROW encroachments to prevent those experiencing poverty from accessing public space. This report analyzes how Denver’s government implements and enforces AROs and ROW encroachments to the benefit of private businesses at the cost of people who are unhoused.

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