Third Push for Homeless Bill of Rights in Colorado Legislature

Denver, CO – For the third year in a row, the Homeless Bill of Rights, also known as the Right To Rest Act, is going to be reintroduced to Colorado’s legislature, the General Assembly. Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL) is the bill’s organizational sponsor and the bill is sponsored by Reps. Joseph Salazar (D-Thornton) and Jovan Melton (D-Aurora).

Unicorn Riot was live for an informational community event about the bill at the Auraria Campus in Denver.

Mariah, a representative from the Casa Mayan Student Group, one of the organizers of the event, opened the evening:

I would like to start off by all of us taking a moment to recognize that we are on occupied territory of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute Nations because this history of displacement really begins with their displacement.

Mariah went on to say,

Homelessness and poverty are products of classism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, and transphobia. Homelessness and poverty are products of unbridled capitalism. Governments who have not been representing the people for decades have worked hard to criminalize the victims of this system—to criminalize people who are homeless, to criminalize being poor.
This includes our own institutions—MSU Denver, UCD, CCD, and AHEC—have all lobbied against this Right To Rest Act. This is why students and faculty from all three institutions are concerned. We were not included in this decision to use our student fees to perpetuate the suffering of people who are homeless, some of which include our own classmates who faced or are currently facing homelessness.

The Right to Rest Act is a piece of state legislation that would bar local governments across Colorado from imposing local ordinances which effectively criminalize homelessness by making necessary acts of survival, like sleeping, a criminal offense. Since 2012, Denver’s authorities have enforced a local Unauthorized Camping Ordinance (PDF), or the Urban Camping Ban, which effectively makes surviving without housing illegal.

The bill ensures all citizens have the following basic rights:

1) The right to move freely, rest, sleep and protect oneself from the elements in public spaces.

2) The right to occupy a legally parked vehicle.

3) The right to a reasonable expectation of privacy of your property in pubic space.

4) The right to eat, share, accept, or give food in any public space in which having food is not prohibited.

In Colorado, this bill was first introduced in the spring of 2015 and heard in the State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on April 15th and April 27th. The committee members voted down the bill 8-3.

It was heard for the second time on February 24th, 2016 in the Local Affairs committee. After over eight hours of testimony, the bill was again voted down, with a closer vote of 6-5.

Terese Howard of DHOL spoke about this year’s reintroduction of the bill at the event:

It should be introduced probably in about 2 or 3 weeks, so this is the time—between now and 2 or 3 weeks from now—when we need to be gathering support from all the allies.”

According to the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), the fiscal sponsor of DHOL and the bill’s primary author:

The Homeless Bill of Rights campaign strives to ensure that all people have the basic right to live where they choose without fear of harassment and criminalization at the hands of the police… The goals and priorities of the campaign come from the results of 1,000s of street outreach surveys to people in various cities being criminalized for sitting, lying, resting, sleeping and eating while poor and/or homeless.”

The bill has not only been introduced repeatedly in Colorado, but also has been heard in recent years at the California and Oregon state legislatures as well.

On April 3rd, 2013, DHOL published a comprehensive report (PDF) from the information they collected from surveys of over 500 Denver residents living without housing. The surveys essentially asked how the newly implemented Urban Camping Ban, which went into effect on May 28th, 2012, affected their ability to survive.

Denver’s Unauthorized Camping Ordinance makes it a crime for any person to shelter him or herself from the elements while residing on any public or private property, without appropriate permission. Under this law, it is illegal for homeless people to sleep, sit for extended periods, or store their personal belongings anywhere in Denver, if they use any form of protection other than their clothing (e.g., a blanket or a piece of cardboard to sit upon).” 

The Homeless Bill of Rights will effectively repeal the camping ban, bettering the lives of people living on the streets.

The city of Denver is currently being sued by civil rights attorney Jason Flores-Williams on behalf of DHOL and the thousands of residents without housing in Denver whose rights have been repeatedly violated. The class-action lawsuit was filed on Thursday, August 25th, 2016.

Part of the lawsuit, which can be read in full here, states:

For more than two years, Defendants have engaged in an ongoing and continuing policy and practice of raids on those Denver residents who are unsheltered, in which Defendants take and destroy the personal property of Plaintiffs and Plaintiff Class without concern for due process or the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. Defendants have conducted their policies in a manner that can only be described as cruel.”

You can watch our livestream of the event below:

We will continue to cover the Homeless Bill of Rights in CO, as well as the class-action lawsuit and ongoing “sweeps” of people living on the streets.

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Unicorn Riot coverage on Denver’s housing crisis and unhoused community: