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Social Worker Says Civil Disobedience Sometimes Justified

December 21, 1988

DENVER (AP) _ The problems of the homeless are so severe that drastic action including civil disobedience is sometimes necessary, activists testified Tuesday at a hearing for a colleague charged with trespassing.

People are freezing to death, families are breaking down and children are being exposed to drug and alcohol addicts because society fails to take care of the homeless, said Mary Ann Gleason, a member of the board of directors of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Gleason, who also heads a Denver medical clinic for homeless people, was one of three witnesses who testified Tuesday at a hearing for Dorothy King, who operates a shelter for homeless women and children.

King took 14 women and 26 children from her shelter to a vacant house owned by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development on Aug. 15 in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of the homeless.

When she refused an order to leave, King was arrested and charged with trespassing. The other women and children obeyed the order.

King’s trial was scheduled to begin Wednesday in Denver County Court. Tuesday’s hearing before Judge Raymond N. Sater was on several pre-trial motions.

Sater did not rule immediately on the issues raised at the hearing, including whether he would allow King to use the so-called choice-of-evils defense. King’s attorneys said they would argue that trespassing was necessary to prevent the greater evil of leaving the women and children on the streets.

Since King’s protest, HUD has rented 49 Denver-area homes to the homeless. The site of the August protest, and the other homes that HUD has since rented out, were obtained by the federal agency through foreclosure proceedings when buyers who used federally backed mortgages defaulted.

Gleason testified Tuesday that families make up a growing percentage of the homeless people in the Denver area.

″On any given night, there are 500 children in Denver who are homeless,″ she said. She also said a recent study found 1,100 shelter beds in the Denver area, and roughly 2,100 to 2,600 people competing for them.

Last week, she said, two homeless men were brutally murdered, and people have frozen to death on Denver’s streets. She said it is justified to occupy a home illegally because ″civil disobedience is a form of public education.″

Another witness, Gloria Roybal, who has been homeless since May, tearfully told the court how she and her three grandchildren lived in a park last summer. She said she slept during the day so she could stay awake at night, watching over the children, age 3, 4 and 8.

Marsha Gould of the Colorado Children’s Campaign said a recent study in Colorado showed children are suffering because of a lack of attention to the problem of homeless families.

″We’re seeing a lot of anxiety, clinging behavior in kids, arguments, school disruption, sleep disturbance, eating disturbance, and a lot of anxiety and depression in parents because they’re unable to care for their children,″ she said.

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