For Immediate Release
February 20, 2017
Contact: Cheryl Distaso, Fort Collins Community Action Network
Phone: 970.419.8944 firstname.lastname@example.org
Fort Collins Homeless Coalition Opposes the City's Proposed Sit-Lie Ban
Fort Collins- Fort Collins' City Council is considering a sit-lie ban, which they are calling the "Appropriate Use of Shared Public Space" ordinance. In other cities with similar ordinances,enforcement invariably targets people who are homeless, resulting in inhumane treatment and additional hardship. Ordinances like these are frequently used to pressure homeless people into moving out of downtown areas. This makes homeless people less visible downtown, while doing nothing to reduce the number of people who are homeless.
The ACLU of Colorado called this proposed ordinance "one of the most outrageous, cruel and absurd examples that we have seen yet of a proposed ordinance clearly targeting unhoused persons." We agree. Such an ordinance in Fort Collins would work against many of the City's stated goals concerning homelessness, and move us further from real solutions.Sit-lie ordinances have proved damaging in the cities that have passed them. For example, a study of Honolulu's sit-lie ordinance revealed that the city's "...policy of 'compassionate disruption' and its accompanying sit-lie laws cause significant property and economic loss, physical and psychological harm and very likely violate certain constitutional rights. Not only that, they make it much harder for houseless people to get off the streets and into permanent housing." (see http://hawaiiindependent.net/story/study-shows-sit-lie-laws-have-worsened-honolulus-houseless-problem).
Laws that target human needs such as sitting and lying violate our constitutional rights and target the most vulnerable among us. If this ordinance were to pass and be enforced fairly, in would negatively impact people who are elderly, disabled, parents with sleeping toddlers, and any of us enjoying a good book by the fountain or sitting back to watch our vibrant downtown scene.
However, there is good reason to think that this law would not be enforced fairly. The proposed sit-lie ban would apply to the same downtown area as our new smoking ban. Thus far, 37 of the 43 smoking tickets issued were to people identified as homeless. It is reasonable to expect a similar pattern of selective enforcement with a sit-lie ban, and similar challenges for the police force tasked with enforcing problematic legislation. We should not be passing laws that we know will be enforced selectively against marginalized groups; Fort Collins is better than this.
Faulty rhetoric around "disruptive behavior" downtown frequently confuses and conflates homelessness and poverty with criminal behavior. To be sure, aggressive behavior and harassment are serious problems wherever they occur, and should be addressed. The City of Fort Collins has ordinances in place already that address a wide range of disruptive behavior, including obstructing sidewalks or the blocking entryways, which should be enforced when such behavior occurs. But sitting or lying down in public are not aggressive acts.
Sitting on the sidewalk is an act that raises a very simple question: do we have enough benches in our downtown area? Likewise, instead of punishing people for carrying amounts of personal property that are arbitrarily considered "excessive," we should be asking whether Fort Collins needs 24/7 storage lockers. Instead of using jail and other criminal penalties as a one-size-fits-all solution to citizen complaints, our city should be creating a community where compassionate, practical approaches are always considered first. A sit-lie ban is not such a solution, and raises too many issues of discrimination and selective enforcement to be part of such a community.
This ordinance does not represent what we have come to expect from our city leadership. The Fort Collins Homeless Coalition fully supports the ACLU's position as outlined in their February 16, 2017 letter to Fort Collins City Council, and we agree with their assessment that "This ordinance is a hysterical overreaction to the presence of people who are simply trying to survive with no place to call home."
For More information, contact Cheryl Distaso, Fort Collins Homeless Coalition 970.419.8944.