Denver’s ban on sleeping or camping on city streets has reduced the quality of life for the homeless, increased burdens on taxpayers and caused longer, more troubled incidents of homelessness, according to a study from a researcher at the University of Colorado Denver.
The research, compiled from interviews with 441 homeless people, shows 36 percent have been arrested for being homeless, 70 percent report being ticketed for homelessness and 90 percent report police harassment.
The full report, entitled `No Right to Rest: Criminalizing Homelessness in Colorado,’ was released at a press conference last Tuesday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Denver.
“These criminalization laws, policies and practices are harmful to homeless people, legally indefensible and counterproductive in addressing the problem of the homeless,” said Professor Tony Robinson, Ph.D. (right), chairman of the political science department at CU Denver who wrote the report with graduate student Allison Sickels. “A better approach is called for.”
That approach, they say, is a new bill called the `Colorado Right to Rest Act’ that will be debated in the Legislature later this month.
The bill would allow the homeless to use public spaces without discrimination based on housing status. They could rest in public and shelter from the elements; occupy a vehicle on public or private property with permission from the property owner and expect that their privacy and property would be respected in public as it would in private.
It is currently illegal for homeless residents to sit or sleep on downtown sidewalks in Denver or use any shelter aside from their clothes to protect against the elements, Robinson said.
“In Boulder, city officials have put homeless people on trial for using a backpack pillow as a form of `shelter,’ since it is used to keep one’s head from touching the ground,” Robinson noted. “In Grand Junction, officials have locked public bathrooms and shut down water fountains in downtown parks so as to discourage homeless people from coming to the area. In Durango, a peaceful street guitar player was ticketed due to having his guitar case open to accept donations.”
Throughout Colorado, the report said, jurisdictions are treating homelessness as a criminal condition, and are making homeless activity illegal in public spaces.
“Our study examines the consequences of criminalizing homelessness in Colorado,” Robinson said. “And we are ready to discuss some alternatives to a law that clearly isn’t working.”