Date: Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Time and Location:
Rally: 12:30pm in front of the State Capitol (Colfax and Lincoln)
Hearing: 1:30pm in State Capitol Building (room to be determined)
DENVER — On February 24, 2016 the Local Government Committee of the Colorado State legislature will be hearing HB16-1191, known as the “Right to Rest Act.” Prior to the hearing, at12:30pm, a rally will be held in front of the Capitol to remind our legislators all people need the right to rest!
Representatives Salazar and Melton will introduce legislation to end the alarming trend of cities passing laws that criminalize the basic civil rights of homeless individuals. The Right to Rest Act would, among other things, protect the rights of homeless people to move freely, rest, have privacy of one’s belonging, and eat in public space as well as protect their right to occupy a legally parked motor vehicle. The many laws across Colorado which infringe on these rights would be rendered null and void, and people will be allowed to rest.
This bill will “allow people the right to rest without harassment from police and without ordinances that violate civil and constitutional rights,” the bill’s Sponsor Representative Salazar explained at the Right to Rest Festival. “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.”
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 and along with 53 local Colorado organizations and over 170 nationally endorsing the campaign. In a coordinated campaign, California, Oregon, and Colorado are running the Right to Rest Act in their state legislatures.
Here in Colorado the low estimates of counted homeless people is 16,000, with schools counting 23,000 homeless children. Cities across Colorado are increasingly enacting and enforcing laws which punish people for doing what any person must do to survive–even though the extreme lack of affordable housing is forcing more and more people out of their homes and into living in public spaces. Due to the fact that these activities are being conducted in public space, these individuals are being treated inhumanely. Studies have shown for optimum health a person needs 7 to 8 hours of solid uninterrupted sleep. Colorado is ranked in the top ten states in the nation as to the highest cost of housing. The average one bedroom apartment is $1255. The average worker making minimum wage is priced out of the housing market. Colorado has what is known as the Telluride Law giving the owner/landlord the right to raise rent to any amount he deems fit. These two factors are contributing to people formerly housed no choice but to occupy public spaces.
The recently published report “Too High a Price: What Criminalizing Homelessness is Costing Colorado” by DU Sturm College of Law Homeless Advocacy Policy Project, shows that laws criminalizing homeless people for being homeless have become widespread in Colorado. Colorado’s 76 largest cities have 351 anti-homeless ordinances. Cities issue citations to homeless residents at a staggering rate. For example, 30% of all citations that Grand Junction issued are pursuant to an anti-homeless ordinance. The citations that Fort Collins issues to homeless residents represent 36% of total citations issued. Colorado Springs has doubled the rate at which they enforce anti-homeless ordinances between 2010 and 2014. Boulder stands out in issuing camping ban citations by issuing 1,767 between 2010 and 2014. By studying the enforcement of five anti-homeless ordinances in Denver, the report found that in 2014, Denver spent nearly three-quarters of a million dollars ($750,000.00) enforcing these ordinances.
The Colorado Homeless People’s Rights Survey, conducted by DHOL and partner organizations across the state, documents the experiences of 431 homeless people in 12 Colorado cities. This survey shows that 70% of respondents have been criminalized for sleeping, 64% for sitting/lying down, and 50% for loitering. Also, 60% have had their belongings taken by police or city employees. A similar survey done in Denver in 2012 found that 37% of respondents chose not to cover up against the elements in order to avoid violating the camping ban and being confronted by police.
But people’s voices speak louder than statistics. Here’s what one unhoused community member said about his efforts to survive in public space:
“One time, I was sitting at a bus stop. My feet were tired. I’d gotten off from a landscaping job and I couldn’t walk any further. I’d been up all night….A police officer approached me and told me to ‘move on’ and that I couldn’t camp here….I guess I was moving too slow….He put me in handcuffs….The other cop turned my backpack upside down and dumped it out. When they got done, he told me to ‘pick up this crap and get out.’ I had all my fresh laundered clothes in there and my water. I picked up my stuff and moved on….This stuff goes on every day.”
By ending the criminalization of rest and accompanying violations of basic human and civil rights, HB 16-1191 would encourage the diversion of expenditures from citing and jailing people for resting in public spaces to efforts aimed at preventing and ending homelessness.
To make a serious dent in the number of Coloradans facing homelessness, we must prioritize our efforts at the federal, state and local levels to provide affordable and healthy homes for all people who need it. At the same time, our humanity and common sense impel us to immediately end the cruel, costly, ineffective and unconstitutional practice of criminalizing people for performing necessary acts of survival in public places. That is what the Right to Rest Act is designed to do, and why the Colorado Legislature should pass it.
Watch video of DU Sturm College of Law Homeless Policy Project Presentation of “Too High a Price: What Criminalizing Homelessness Costs Colorado”