Solving homelessness remains a top priority for municipalities. However, inflammatory, inaccurate rhetoric continues to portray as cities and towns “criminalizing persons experiencing homelessness.”
A report recently released by the University of Denver, specifically the Homeless Advocacy Policy Project, purports that Colorado municipalities spend roughly $5 million enforcing ordinances that criminalize homelessness.
First, CML disagrees with the initial assumption of the study that that these ordinances criminalize homeless. These laws involve time, place and manner restrictions used in every Colorado jurisdiction to protect the public space and to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all residents. They address behavior and not status, and apply to all municipal citizens. Second, there are a number of flaws with the study that include not taking into account cases that may have been dismissed or ignoring municipal ordinances that set specific guidelines for law enforcement to connect homeless individuals with services. Third, the study does not take into account the millions of dollars in funding municipalities provide in services for persons experiencing homelessness. In Denver alone, $47 million dollars will be spent in 2016 on direct and indirect costs for services, an increase over prior years. Municipalities like Colorado Springs, Boulder, and Fort Collins also have robust programs to reduce the number of homeless and address their specific needs.
Furthering the false narrative of a “war on the homeless” is legislation continually introduced in the Statehouse. This year, HB 16-1191 is currently before the General Assembly and would create a “Bill of Rights” for these individuals. There are a multitude of issues with this legislation. Most significantly, the proposed bill does nothing to solve homelessness. It does not provide additional resources nor provides funding so local governments can continue to improve and expand services to those citizens in need.
CML opposes HB 16-1191, “the Right to Rest Act” not because municipalities care less about their vulnerable populations. On the contrary, cities and towns spend millions in services annually. Let’s change the conversation to expanding resources to get citizens housed and ending the cycle of homelessness.
The Denver Post said it best. “No one is trying to sweep homelessness under the rug — not in Denver nor in many cities that are proud of their own initiatives.”
What Colorado needs are long term, collaborative state and local solutions to this very difficult issue, and Colorado municipalities’ efforts are currently leading the way.