Colorado Turns Down Homeless Bill of Rights

Hate and Lies Prevail in Denver

The Colorado State Legislative committee turned down the Right to Sleep/Homeless Bill of Rights legislation this week in Denver.  This is part of a national movement to pass bills of rights throughout the country.  In response to the large number of people who are harassed by police for innocent behavior of sitting, sleeping, standing in the public space, advocates tried to reduce the involvement of law enforcement in the distribution of social services.  

In surveys done in Colorado, San Antonio, San Francisco, Washington, and Oregon, they found 80 to 90% of the population experience discrimination by law enforcement in their communities.  This was an attempt to reduce interactions between law enforcement and homeless people in the State of Colorado. In the survey conducted in Denver, 70 percent of respondents said they were harassed, ticketed and even arrested for sleeping outdoors, and nearly as many, 64 percent, for simply sitting or lying down to rest.  73 percent said they had been turned away from shelters when they tried to enter. 60 percent also said they had their property seized by city employees and/or law enforcement.

The bill would specifically:

  1. The right to use and move freely in public spaces without time limits or discrimination based on housing status.
  2. The right to eat and share food in public spaces
  3. The right to occupy a motor vehicle that is parked on public property.
  4. The right to a reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces.

Activists came from around the country to support the Colorado initiative.  There were homeless people from Skid Row, Boulder, Seattle, Baltimore, New York City, DC, San Francisco among others who rallied at the State House to push this forward.  They were extremely disappointed and disruptive after it became clear the bill was going to die. 

The Denver Post reported the opposition this way: Kathy Haddock, senior assistant city attorney for Boulder, cited more than $3 million annually the city spends on homelessness (This is the money given to Boulder from the Federal Government and not local funds).

"'Right to rest' is a good phrase, it sounds good, it's a good sound bite, but homelessness issues are not addressed simply by providing people a place to rest," she said. "In fact, using public property to become a replacement home for people means that property also becomes their bathroom, cooking area, trash bin and congregating area.

"As a result, those areas become unusable by others and are very expensive for the city to provide trash removal and human-waste removal services."

Even though these rules only applied to public property, retail lobbyists testified against the bill.  Trial lawyers testified against the bill as did the Chamber of Commerce.   Boulder and other cities in Colorado who have made it illegal to be homeless testified against the bill, because of the "expense" of defending lawsuits.  The cities were worried that police would sue them if they threatened arrest of homeless people. 

Brian Davis

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PS:  Cleveland has a federal consent decree signed in February 2000 that protects homeless people from harrassment by the police for purely innocent behavior.