- 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.