A bill to outline homeless rights failed in committee at the Colorado House on April 27, with bipartisan opposition defeating the bill. If it had passed, it would have provided protections for homeless people in the state to be allowed to rest in public spaces, such as parks, to eat and accept offered food, to occupy a legally parked vehicle and to maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy over their property. Some of these items, which you may recognize as basic human decency, are currently outlawed under certain ordinances.
The most stringent regulation currently on the books is a Denver anti-camping law that went into effect a couple of years ago. In effect, it makes it illegal to be homeless after dark in the Mile High City. Police are permitted to harass and even arrest any individual who has the gall to not have a home to sleep in. They are supposed to provide alternatives before hauling them in, but research has shown that to not be the case most of the time.
Earlier this month the University of Colorado Denver released the results of a survey of 500 homeless people in ten different cities throughout the state, and the results cast a pretty grim picture on how we treat the least fortunate among us. In it, 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. But it’s not like they could go to a shelter either, 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 police.
Laws that criminalize homelessness aren’t exclusive to Colorado either. Nationwide some 18 percent of cities have laws against being homeless, and only three states, Illinois, Connecticut and Rhode Island, actually have protections for homeless people. In a whopping 47 states it is completely legal to enact and enforce what many call “Jim Crow” type laws against people for being impoverished.
Meanwhile, the Colorado bill, which you can read here, would have allowed some protections for these people. But the committee voted 8-3 to shoot it down, citing concerns over lawsuits against the city that would deplete funds for shelters. As in, the very shelters that turned away 73 percent of the aforementioned survey respondents when they tried to enter for the night. Both Democrats and Republicans joined forces to defeat the already defeated people at the bottom rung of our society.