10/24/2011 02:31 pm ET | Updated Dec 24, 2011

Denver City Council Debates Making Sleeping On 16th Street Mall Illegal

According to a survey conducted this January, the Denver metro area's homeless population numbers are just north of 11,300. Of those, approximately 42 percent spent a recent night in the City and County of Denver, 72 percent of which found shelter in transitional housing (23.5%), stayed with family or friends (30.9%), or slept in an emergency shelter (17.4%). Unfortunately, this means a remaining 28 percent of Denver's homeless -- approximately 1300 people -- have slept outside.

For those without a place to spend the night, Denver city councilors are upset they tend to congregate on the 16th Street Mall. So upset they'd like to make sleeping there illegal. While Denver passed ordinances in 2005 limiting panhandling (beggars cannot sit or lie down on sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.) and regulating when police can arrest beggars, sleeping overnight is not illegal. At a time when many struggle to make their house payments (not to mention Occupy Denver's sidewalk residences), the policy may raise a few eyebrows.

"We only have one downtown," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told 9News. "We must protect the vitality of our downtown, the city core. It's for their own safety and well being. We have the opportunity for people who are predatory, people who are criminal, who are doing things that aren't any good to those that need to sleep down there.

Homeless advocates, however are less than enthusiastic about the proposal. John Parvensky, president of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, told the Denver Post the potential law would be "a real step backward." "This is a direct result of the recession, of shelters being closed and lack of mental-health and treatment services that are needed for part of the population," he said. "It's not solving homelessness; it's just criminalizing it."

The proposed law comes 6 years after Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper approved "Denver's Road Home," a ten-year plan aimed at reducing homelessness in the region.