“LIKE MOST OF AMERICA, COLORADO FACES A HOMELESS EPIDEMIC. Amidst a stark rise in housing costs and equally sharp drop in available affordable housing, Colorado’s cities struggle to address the overwhelming needs of its homeless residents. While professing a dedication to eliminating homelessness through homeless and poverty services, state actors continue to write, pass, and enforce local ordinances that criminalize life-sustaining behaviors. Laws that criminalize panhandling, begging, camping, sitting or lying in public, and vagrancy target and disproportionately impact residents that are homeless for activities they must perform in the course of daily living. This Report examines how laws criminalizing homeless people for being homeless have become widespread in Colorado. Through a comprehensive analysis of the enforcement of anti-homeless laws, this Report also examines the cost—economic and social—anti-homeless laws impose upon all Colorado citizens.”
• Colorado’s 76 largest cities have 351 anti-homeless ordinances;
• Cities criminalize homelessness in a variety of ways;
• Adopted ordinances inspire similar ordinances in other municipalities; and • Ordinances lack clarity and obstruct government transparency and accountability.
• 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. Fort Collins issues citations to homeless individuals at the rate of two citations per homeless resident per year. Colorado Springs has doubled the rate at which they enforce anti-homeless ordinances between 2010 and 2014.
• Many cities aggressively target homeless residents for panhandling and for trespassing. Fewer than half of the cities surveyed have restrictions on begging or panhandling, yet Denver arrested nearly 300 homeless individuals in 2014 for panhandling. Between 2013 and 2014, Denver issued over 2,000 trespass citations to homeless individuals. This represents more than half of all trespass citations in the city even though homeless residents are only 0.05% of the population.
• Some cities use camping bans to target homeless residents. Boulder stands out in issuing camping ban citations by issuing 1,767 between 2010 and 2014—as compared with Denver, which issued fifteen in the same time frame, or Durango, which issued zero. Boulder issued camping ban citations at a rate of two citations per homeless resident. Eighty-seven percent of Boulder’s camping citations were issued to homeless residents.
• Several cities fail to track how anti-homeless citations are enforced against individuals who are homeless—this includes Durango, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Aurora. Because most cities also do not track “move on” orders, the data provided by the cities do not address how these widely used policing tactics impact homeless residents’ lives.
• Cities do not provide sufficient services for their homeless populations. For example, Fort Collins provides 118 shelter beds for over 400 homeless residents. On its best night, Boulder provides 280 beds for 440 homeless residents. Some cities, like Grand Junction, have limited services and publicize their attempts to deter people who are homeless from coming to their city.
A major contribution of Too High A Price is that it comprehensively analyzes the cost of anti-homeless ordinances by calculating the cost of policing, adjudication, and incarceration. By studying the enforcement of five anti-homeless ordinances in Denver, we found that in 2014 alone, Denver spent nearly three-quarters of a million dollars ($750,000.00) enforcing these ordinances. We estimate that just six Colorado cities spent a minimum of five million dollars ($5,000,000.00) enforcing fourteen anti-homeless ordinances over a fiveyear period. For reasons discussed in the report, this number is significantly under-inclusive. Reducing or eliminating anti-homeless ordinances would achieve governmental goals of reducing ineffective spending; expanding efficient homelessness services and prevention; and reducing collateral consequences and implicit social costs associated with criminalizing homelessness.
This study examines the consequences of criminalizing homelessness in Colorado, from the point of view of homeless people themselves. The study reports on a poll of 441 homeless individuals from 10 Colorado cities regarding their interactions with police and private security forces and reports on how criminalization is undermining the quality of life for homeless people, violating constitutional and human rights, costing localities millions in enforcement dollars, and increasing the likelihood that people will remain homeless.
This report is written by Tony Robinson (Ph.D) and Allison Sickels. The Colorado Homeless People’s Rights Survey, which is analyzed in this report, was designed and conducted by Denver Homeless Out Loud and partner organizations across Colorado.
The findings of this survey are the bases of what rights we included in the Right to Rest Act. These survey findings show plan as day that a fundamental daily concern of people living without housing is the continual displacement and criminalization of simply existing in public space. The Right to Rest Act emerged from these findings, along with almost identical findings in California and Oregon, which have brought us all together with WRAP to end this criminalization of rest.
You can read the blank survey instrument here: Colorado Homeless People’s Rights Questionnaire
Some Key Survey Findings
Criminalization of Rest
- 70% harassed, ticketed, arrested for sleeping, with 25% of these being ticketed and 14% being arrested
- 64% harassed, ticketed, or arrested for sitting or lying down, with 15% being ticketed and 7% being arrested
- 50% harassed, ticketed, or arrested for loitering, with 14% ticketed and 6% arrested
- 24% harassed, ticketed, or arrested for sleeping in a vehicle, with 5% ticketed and 2% arrested
- 43% harassed, ticketed, or arrested for park curfew, with 19% ticketed and 8% arrested
- 35% harassed, ticketed, or arrested for panhandling, with 11% ticketed and 7% arrested
Extra Judicial Policing
- 48% harassed, ticketed, or arrested for standing up for another person, with 10% ticketed and 8% arrested
- 52% harassed, ticketed, or arrested for “appearing homeless,” with 7% ticketed and 3% arrested
- When asked, “Do police ever harass you without having any legal reason?” 79% said yes
- When asked, “Have you encountered private security guards hassling people, ordering people away or otherwise policing public sidewalks or parks?” 78% said yes
- When asked, “Have police or city employees ever taken your belongings?” 61% said yes
Bathrooms and Hygiene
- 83% have been denied access to bathrooms, with 23% harassed, ticketed, or arrested for urinating in public due to lack of access to bathrooms, and 63% have been denied access to water.
These findings show plan as day that people who are homeless in Colorado are being treated as criminals and undesirables for performing basic acts of survival and simply existing in public space. Jailing, ticketing, and telling people to “move along” is pushing people out of their communities, out of safer places, and out of sight out of mind – not out of homelessness.
Colorado Laws Prohibiting Survival Acts in Public Spaces
Learn more about the laws in our state criminalizing homelessness.