- Interviews with two people “swept” from their resting spot along the river during a week of police kicking sleeping people off the river.
- Footage of police kicking out and running IDs of a dozen people sleeping under a bridge along the river – far out of sight, a clean camp where those staying pack in and pack out everyday leaving no mess.
DOJ Determines Criminalization of Homelessness As Cruel And Unusual Punishment
Homeless Community and Advocates Applaud Department of Justice Briefing Acknowledging This On-Going Torture
On Thursday, August 6, 2015, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) did something it has done only one other time in 20 years: they submitted a “statement of interest” in the US District Court of Idaho in opposition to the criminalization of homeless people. While it doesn’t carry any legal authority, it does tell the courts and most importantly, local governments, that the Justice Department of the US Government holds a legal opinion that to criminalize homelessness is cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of constitutional rights. The DOJ Statement of Interest validates homeless organizers and advocates claim that these laws violate the civil and human rights of those experiencing homelessness and poverty.
“Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity — i.e., it must occur at some time in some place,” says the filing. “ If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.”
The lawsuit was filed by homeless people who say that laws which penalize people for sleeping outdoors effectively make it illegal to be homeless. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prevents any type of cruel and unusual punishment and excessive fines. By outlawing a basic necessity of life such as sleeping, the lawsuit contends that the rules against outdoor camping in cities like Boise amount to punishing someone simply for existing. For once, the judicial system may decide in their favor, rather than continually penalizing them for being alive. If successful, the lawsuit would not remove the law from the books. It would, however, prevent enforcement of it in any meaningful way. Unfortunately, this means that the harassment by police may continue in the future. It would also set a precedent that could allow more lawsuits of this sort to stand on in order to protect homeless rights.
This recent move greatly underscores how important it is to pass the Right to Rest Act in California, Oregon, and Colorado. Legislation in all three states has been introduced to roll back the policy strategy used by most cities to cite and arrest for sleeping or resting in public. It will free up resources to invest instead in housing and other real solutions towards ending homelessness. The case in Boise may prove to be the start of the tide turning back against the abuses homeless people have suffered.
“I am glad to see the federal Department of Justice weigh in on this vital human and constitutional rights issue and I believe it will be helpful to our efforts to end the practice of arresting and citing people for resting or sharing food, which are not malicious, violent, or criminal behaviors but are actually acts of survival.” Said Colorado State Senator John Kefalas (co-sponsor of HB 1254 Colorado Right To Rest Act)
There are estimated to be more than 600,000 homeless people on any given night in the United States, and they have to sleep somewhere. Shelters and housing options are available in some areas but not everywhere, and those that do exist often get filled to capacity immediately. Many homeless people are left with only one option: sleeping outdoors. With ordinances prohibiting outdoor sleeping in cities like Boise, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Sacramento, Oakland and Denver they are then continually moved along by police, preventing them from obtaining essential sleep. Or they are arrested and either fined, incarcerated, or both. This only adds to their burden of homelessness by punishing it. It does not provide solutions to those who need them.
Homelessness ends with a house, not handcuffs.
A copy of the DOJ brief can be found here: http://www.justice.gov/opa/file/643766/download
From Western Regional Advocacy Project and Denver Homeless Out Loud
CONTACT: Denver Homeless Out Loud
Western Regional Advocacy Project
Denver Homeless Out Loud
There will be a Community Input Session to address “disruptive behavior downtown” (such as the disruptive behavior of sitting!) this Thursday, August 13th 7-8pm at Aztlan Community Center, 112 Willow St
The Sit/Lie ordinance and “disruptive behavior plan” will first be discussed in City Council work session on Tuesday August 25th 6pm at City Hall West, 300 LaPorte Ave, Fort Collins, CO.
Fort Collins Homeless Coalition Responds to the City’s Actions Regarding Homelessness and “Disruptive Behaviors”
Fort Collins–The Fort Collins Homeless Coalition (FCHC), an origination made up mostly of community members who are homeless, learned of the intention of City’s Leadership Team to pass an ordinance that would prohibit people from sitting or lying down for a specific period of time in public places. Similar ordinances have been passed in other cities and have been proven both to be ineffective and to do nothing more than target homeless people. The City is hosting a community forum on August 13th and the ordinance would go through first reading on the regular City Council meeting on August 18th.
The City’s Office of Social Sustainability has been working on a Homelessness Action Plan that will be discussed at City Council’s August 25th work session. The plan is the product of much hard work by Beth Sowder, the Director of Social Sustainability. Beth has done an excellent job outreaching to FCHC to build meaningful relationships. It is FCHC’s position that the City should not take action prior to fully discussing the plan, because such action would be damaging not only to the homeless community but to all of Fort Collins.
Sitting and sleeping is a human need. Further criminalizing people who are carrying out those needs is inhumane. In the wake of last week’s Statement of Interest filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, which stated that ” …punishing conduct that is a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human violates the Eighth Amendment,” Fort Collins should not work recklessly to target homeless people.
The City’s stated goal of making homelessness “rare, short-lived, and nonrecurring” will not be met by implementing laws that force homeless community members further into the shadows.
Introducing any ordinance on August 18th would usurp the City’s own process, by acting prior to fully examining the Homelessness Action Plan . The on-line survey that the city has implemented is extremely biased and will not produce any meaningful information.
The City sent a delegation of community leaders Burlington, VT this past weekend to learn about their successful street outreach program.
Any information gleaned from the August 13th forum as well as the VT trip should be a part of the discussion at the August 25th work session, and any action should be taken by Council should take place after that work session and should always be based on data-driven, evidence based practices.
A step in the right direction for the Right to Rest!
All of us who are working nationwide as part of the growing movement to pass Right to Rest acts in our states got a big boost from the Obama administration last week!
In an ongoing civil rights case against Boise, Idaho, on August 6th attorneys for the Federal Government’s Civil Rights Division argued that anti-camping bans are unconstitutional when they criminally prosecute people for sleeping outside in public when they have nowhere else to go. (Huntington Post Story– one of many media stories on this). Boise was sued by houseless plaintiffs for prosecuting them for violating the city’s anti-camping ban, even though there were not enough shelter spaces to accommodate all who needed them. According to the attorneys, such laws violate the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, since people are being punished for “conduct that is a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human.”
We realize that the argument needs to go farther, since it seems to imply that IF shelter spaces are available, then governments still have the right to prosecute houseless people for sleeping outside in public rather than using them. We know that shelters will not work for people who have pets, have partners, do badly in confined spaces–and for so many other reasons. We do not believe anyone should be forced to use shelters in lieu of sleeping outside as long as they are not violating the rights or well-being of others. But we welcome this action by the Obama Administration and pledge to encourage them to continue on this path toward ending the criminalization of homelessness in our country.
Colorado Springs is considering a proposal to make it illegal to sit or lie down in downtown Colorado Springs. Making the basic and necessary act of sitting illegal in downtown areas is inhumane, ineffective, costly and a violation of human rights. All people have to sit–no one can constantly be on the move–but with laws against sitting, continuously walking becomes the only legal thing to do. People who do not have the money to purchase things and spend time inside private businesses and people who do not have private homes in which to rest, have a particular need to sit and rest in public spaces.
Contact Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor Suthers TODAY and let them know why this ban on sitting is harmful to the people! See sample letter supporting the right to sit.
Email Colorado Springs City Council at AllCouncil@springsgov.com
The Sit/Lie ordinance will first be discussed in City Council work session on Monday August 24th 1pm at City Hall 107 N. Nevada Avenue Colorado Springs, CO.
Laws against sitting in downtown areas have spread across the United States in recent years, even as lawsuits and legislation have been challenging these laws. The Colorado Right to Rest Act, which was heard in the legislature this last session and was one of three such bills introduced in three states, declared the act of sitting in public space a right that all people must have. The Right to Rest Act will be back in the legislature in 2016 with the goal of protecting acts of rest and survival in public.
Bans on sitting in downtown areas are driven by the desire to move people without money or housing–the very people who most need to rest in public space—out of central business areas and away from those with resources. Furthermore, as can be seen in cities like Denver, which has a sit/lie ordinance, these bans are utterly ineffective even in achieving this nefarious goal of moving people out of central business areas. Instead, these laws cost cities money in increased policing, court and jail costs. On average, a city spends approximately $87 per day to incarcerate a person. In Larimer County Colorado there were over 3000 bookings of people who are homeless which has entailed over 8 million in public costs. Colorado Springs currently spends large sums of money policing and incarcerating people for necessary life-sustaining acts such as sleeping, panhandling, and urinating without access to bathrooms. This was brought to attention in October 2014 when the city began placing area restrictions for the downtown area on “repeat offenders” of these “crimes” – all 12 individuals facing the area restriction were homeless. If a sit/lie ban is passed in Colorado Springs the city will spend even more money policing and incarcerating people for non-harmful, life-sustaining acts including the most basic act of sitting.
Sit/Lie bans follow in a mean-spirited history of segregation. These bans on sitting in certain downtown areas are eerily similar to Jim Crow laws which made it illegal for people of color to sit at the same counters or buses with white people. These laws were seen to be wrong and were overturned. We must do the same with laws against sitting in downtown areas and allow all people to sit in public together.
See this article from Honolulu regarding how problematic and ineffective their Sit/Lie Ban has been. http://hawaiiindependent.net/story/study-shows-sit-lie-laws-have-worsened-honolulus-houseless-problem
Funeral For Human Dignity
Date: Monday, July 13, 2015
Time: 5:30 PM
Location: Park and Welton, in front of the locked public bathroom.
In June of 2014, Denver’s City Council Government and Finance Committee allocated 1.8 million dollars to increase downtown policing. The new top activities to be criminalized were, according to Police Chief Robert White, panhandling, smoking weed, and public urination. Though the increased policing was said not to be intended to negatively affect people experiencing homelessness in Denver, it inevitably criminalized their basic human needs. One year later, the increase in police and subsequent ticketing has not improved the condition of people without housing, tourists, and downtown residents.
The criminalization of urinating in public has sadly overlooked the real problem: access to public restrooms. Public restrooms are currently locked and inaccessible. Although 2.13 million dollars were spent revitalizing parks, no public restrooms were built during that time and existing ones were not unlocked. A move to unlock public restrooms will not only save the city money in enforcement but also will diminish the underlying problem of public urination. More importantly, opening existing restrooms to the public will recognize the inherent human dignity of all people, which includes people who are homeless. In the current state, Denver residents are afforded no such thing.
Denver Homeless Out Loud finds it appalling and unconstitutional that the city of Denver has been unable to provide restrooms for its people and has instead criminalized a bodily act that a person cannot control. In order to speak out against this, Denver Homeless Out Loud is hosting a Funeral for Human Dignity in front of the locked public restroom on the corner of Welton and Park Street. The event, complete with liturgy, music, and formal funeral procession, will take place Monday July 13th, 2015 at 5:30 PM. All are welcome and encouraged to wear black. Denver Homeless Out Loud believes all people should have access to a restroom. No one should have to urinate in public because of an inaccessible bathroom. It is with great hope that the city will reconsider its choices in order to better reflect the needs of the community it serves. Perhaps next summer, rather than demanding human dignity, we will be celebrating it.
Rally Before April 27th R2R Hearing — representatives from 17 states and 38 organizations fighting criminalization of homelessness in their states rallied in support of the Colorado R2R!
Right to Rest Act Hearing Part Two!
Monday, April 27, 2015
12:30 PM, East Steps of the Capitol (200 E Colfax Ave – Grant and Colfax/14th – back of the Capitol)
1:30 PM, State Capitol (200 E Colfax Ave – Colfax and Lincoln) (note: changed from flyer)
On April 27, 2015, the Colorado State House, Military and Veteran Affairs Committee of the State Legislature will be hearing HB 15-1264, known as the “Right to Rest Act.” This will be the second part of the hearing that began on April 15th, 2015. There will be further testimony on the bill, and then final votes from the committee.
This hearing is happening during the first National Convening on the Criminalization of Homelessness which is happening here in Denver April 26-28. Representatives from over 30 cities and over 20 states will be convening in Denver to join national join together our local struggles to end the criminalization of homelessness across the United States. These National Convening participants will be coming together to the Colorado Right to Rest Act Hearing and speaking about our nationwide work to decriminalize homelessness. Among these will be representatives from California and Oregon who have run the same Right to Rest Act together with us here in Colorado as a part of Western Regional Advocacy Project.
On April 15, 2015, Representatives Salazar and Melton introduced legislation to end the alarming trend of Colorado cities passing laws that criminalize the basic human and civil rights of people without housing who must live in public spaces. Testimony demonstrated the need for the Right to Rest Act to protect the basic human rights of all people to exist in public space- to move freely, rest, have privacy of one’s belongings, and eat in public space as well as protect their right to occupy a legally parked motor vehicle. Opposing testimony listed out services in Denver, such as shelters and day centers, without explaining why the existence of these services means that people should not have the right to exist in public space.Ultimately, even if there were enough “services” we still need to protect the essential human right of all people to exist in public. This bill is important because it regains the human rights that we should all equally share, regardless of how many services there are.
This bill will “allow people the right to rest without harassment from police and without ordinances that violate civil and constitutional rights…you better believe homeless people are being discriminated against. So many ordinances are being passed against homelessness that violate people’s rights, and this has become a statewide concern.” -Right to Rest Act Sponsor, Representative Salazar.
Denver and other cities in Colorado rank among the highest cost cities in the country for housing. There are not enough shelter beds or housing for low income people in many Colorado cities, leaving people to wander with few places to go.The recently released audit of Denver Road Home also highlights “the potential risks associated with Denver’s Unauthorized Camping Ordinance.” And states that “it is disconcerting to see that Denver’s homeless shelter situation has not significantly improved three years after the Ordinance was adopted.” Enacting the Right to Rest Act in Colorado will allow our state to take the lead in ending the counterproductive, costly, immoral and unjust practice of criminalizing people’s efforts to survive in public spaces when no other options are available to them.
Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL), as a member of Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), is leading the campaign for the Right to Rest Act in Colorado together with partner organizations across the state. In a coordinated campaign, California, Oregon, and Colorado are running the Right to Rest Act in their state legislatures this session.