Fourth Push for Homeless Bill of Rights in Colorado Legislature

UPDATE: After seven hours of testimony including over 100 people testifying in favor of the Homeless Bill of Rights and about five testifying against, the bill was voted down for the fourth year in a row with a vote of 10-3.

Denver, CO – For the fourth 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 with the first hearing on March 14, 2018 in the House Local Government Committee.

Unicorn Riot live streamed the hearing of HB 18-1067:

Denver Homeless Out Loud (DHOL) is the bill’s organizational sponsor and it is also sponsored by Reps. Joseph Salazar (D-Thornton) and Jovan Melton (D-Aurora).

The hearing was originally set for February 21, 2018, however supporters of the bill wanted it to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee, instead of the House Local Government Committee where it was heard last year. The hearing was postponed while the Colorado legislature reflected on which committee the bill should be heard in.

According to Terese Howard of DHOL, the Judiciary Committee is the appropriate committee since it focuses on civil rights.

After about a week of deliberation, the bill was set to stay in the Local Government Committee. Howard shared a common belief of supporter’s of the bill:

Putting it in the Local Government Committee is a move on house leadership’s part to try and kill the bill because they know the Local Government Committee may not have the votes to pass.”

The bill was voted down last year with a vote of 8-5. In 2016 it was heard in the House Local Affairs Committee, and after over eight hours of testimony, the bill was voted down with a vote of 6-5.

It 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.

Photo from Denver’s Beloved Community Village Fundraiser and art installation.

The bill has not only been introduced repeatedly in Colorado, but similar versions of the bill have been heard in recent years at the California and Oregon state legislatures as well. The Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) is the bill’s primary author and fiscal sponsor of DHOL.

The Right to Rest Act (HB 18-1067) 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.

The text of the bill (PDF) states:

“Many persons experience homelessness because of economic hardship, a severe shortage of safe and affordable housing, the inability to secure gainful employment, and a disintegrating and shrinking social safety net.

“Responding to the growing crisis of homelessness with criminal sanctions to push people out of public spaces and into courts and jails is costly, inhumane, ineffective, and violates basic civil, human, and constitutional rights.”

The crisis of homelessness in the United States began after the federal government drastically cut its funding of public and affordable housing by 77% in the late 1970s.

Graph from Without Housing, a report published by the Western Regional Advocacy Project.

The graph above shows how when the number of people on the streets first skyrocketed en masse in California, the state’s response was to criminalize them instead of providing housing and assistance to people who needed it.

This response is still used in many U.S. cities. In Denver, there are currently over 6,500 families on affordable housing waiting lists, and only 1 in 70 people who apply for affordable housing have a chance of receiving a voucher.

Although criminalization persists, in 2014 the United Nations Human Rights Commission condemned the United States’ criminalization of homelessness as a violation of the United States’ international treaty obligations and as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

On top of that condemnation, in 2015 the U.S. Department of Justice issued a “Brief to Address the Criminalization of Homelessness,” in which the departments stated that:

making it a crime for people who are homeless to sleep in public places, when there is insufficient shelter space in a city, unconstitutionally punishes them for being homeless.”

Aurora, a resident at Denver’s first tiny home village, Beloved Community Village, reminded the audience at a fundraiser and educational event about the humanity of people who do not have housing; something supporters of the Homeless Bill of Rights hope the representatives prioritize at the hearing.

I need you to remember homeless people have souls and are human, and you don’t know their story, so maybe you shouldn’t assume.” – Aurora

Unicorn Riot will continue to provide updates on the bill’s progress.

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