March 30, 2015 — As Shelter Space Closes, Fort Collins Homeless Coalition Asks City to Stop Ticketing for Sleeping, Resting, and Camping
“Standing outside in sub-zero temperatures, part of a long line of men and women doing the same, I heard the words I never wanted to hear: “Come back at 10:30, see if we can try again.”” – Stuart Hill, while experiencing homelessness in Fort Collins
From November-March, dozens of homeless people in Fort Collins line up outside Catholic Charities at 6pm every night to stand in the double-lottery line. Once the cards are drawn, they discover whether they will be sleeping in a regular shelter bed, on the floor in the cafeteria (emergency overflow space), or as happened several times during the coldest spells, whether the shelter will turn them away altogether for lack of space.
“I came back at 10:30 and was told there was no room for me. It was the middle of the night, it was freezing, and there was nowhere to go. The double lottery line should be called the Russian roulette line.” – Stuart Hill
On March 31, emergency overflow shelter space closes. Beginning the next night, these same people will stand in the lottery line to discover whether they will be able to sleep indoors or be forced to sleep outside. From April onward, there are significantly fewer shelter beds available than there are people currently homeless in Fort Collins. Those who get unlucky in the lottery, or who choose not to waste their time in the lottery line, will have no choice except to sleep outside.
“Even when you get a bed, you don’t get into the shelter until 10:30 at night. Lights go out at 11pm, and then you have to leave by 6am the next morning. When I wake up in the morning, my first thought is whether I will have a bed again tonight. Every day, I have to do it all again.” – Stuart Hill
Without effectively addressing the dire shortage of services, the City of Fort Collins has responded by issuing tickets, fines, and jail sentences to homeless people who sleep outside, even going so far as to round them up in mass ticketing events designed to inspire fear, intimidation, and alienation.
No human being can live without sleep. When someone is turned away from a shelter, they still must find a way to sleep to survive. Laws that criminalize sleeping outdoors or in vehicles are designed to reduce the visibility of the homeless, while doing nothing to decrease the number of people experiencing homelessness or improving their situation. In fact, laws such as this increase the burdens of being homeless, creating additional hardships and leading to a vicious cycle of citations, arrests, fines, and incarceration that drives people further into poverty.
The ability to rest and sleep is essential for every person, and is a fundamental human right. Legislation recognizing this fact has been introduced to the Colorado State Legislature in the form of the Homeless Bills of Rights, a bill that FCHC support. Meanwhile, issuing camping tickets to people who have no option except to camp is a violation of their human rights, and a clear sign of the City’s misplaced priorities.
The Fort Collins Homeless Coalition calls upon the City of Fort Collins to cease and desist in the practice of issuing tickets to homeless people for camping in public spaces, for sleeping in their legally-parked vehicles, and for sleeping on private land with the permission of the property owner. Until the City can offer people meaningful opportunities to meet their need for sleep, it is unjust and illegal to persecute them for sustaining their lives by sleeping in the only places available to them.