Stifling Compassion in Fort Collins: Municipal ordinance 17-182 prohibits sleeping on private property even with permission of the property owner
(Note: This article is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice. It contains general information and may not reflect current legal developments or information. Readers should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in this article without seeking appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from an attorney licensed in Colorado.)
Fort Collins Municipal Code, sec. 17-182, restricts camping or sleeping on private property even when the property owner has given permission (1). According to the terms of the ordinance, no person may sleep or camp on non-residential property (such as businesses or churches), even with the explicit permission of the property owner. A residential property owner may permit someone to camp on her property for up to seven consecutive nights, or fourteen nights in a calendar year, but no more.
According to this ordinance, it appears that all of the following would be illegal:
- A church permitting a homeless family to sleep inside their vehicle parked on church-owned property for even one night.
- A business permitting recreational RVers to park overnight in its parking lot.
- A family inviting guests to stay in tent in their yard, or in an RV parked on their property, for more than seven consecutive days, or fourteen days total in a calendar year.
- A church or business inviting people in need of rest to sleep or camp on its property for even one night.
In each of the above examples, both the property owner and their invited guests may face criminal penalties. This is a serious restriction on the rights of private property owners as well as on the right of people to rest or sleep where they are invited to do so. It is an attempt by our city government to stifle compassion, restrict religious freedom, and unfairly restrict private property rights.
No human being can live without sleep. The ability to rest and sleep is essential for every person, and is a fundamental human right. Laws such as this are designed to reduce the visibility of homelessness, 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, and incarceration that drives people further into poverty.
No community can function without compassion. Fort Collins is a community full of compassionate, kind people who want to help their neighbors. This law stifles compassion, and makes the community poorer as a result. Helping your neighbor should not be illegal.
No city should persecute its most vulnerable citizens or those who try to help them. This law is highly vulnerable to discriminatory enforcement, where people who are perceived as homeless or poor are singled out for harassment and criminal prosecution. This raises serious Constitutional concerns, and opens the City to further civil rights lawsuits. These legal challenges waste taxpayer dollars and City resources that would be better used in finding long-term solutions to the housing and economic crises that are contributing to the rise of homelessness in our community.
The Fort Collins Homeless Coalition has called upon the City to repeal sec. 17-182 of its Municipal Code. FCHC is joined in this appeal by several churches in Fort Collins that want to be able to work toward better community solutions to our current community needs. In 2015, City staff indicated that they are willing to consider changes to the ordinance. FCHC welcomed this forward-thinking attitude from City staff, and has expressed sincere appreciation for this important first step. More progress is needed, and a repeal of the ordinance would be a better way to protect private property rights, human rights, and the compassionate culture that makes Fort Collins the unique city that it is.
What Does Ticketing Data Tell Us?
Each year, FCHC collects publicly available data from the Fort Collins Police Services about how many tickets are being given under several municipal ordinances. Information on ticketing trends, as well as the text of the private camping ordinance, can be found in the following pdf:
Please note: ticketing data does not tell us how often people are contacted by police under an ordinance, instructed to change their behavior (even if they were not behaving illegally), or otherwise pushed out of public spaces, without a ticket being written. While police often regard contact as a neutral/benign action, people being contacted do not always experience it this way. In fact, being repeatedly singled out for police attention, contact, questioning, and control is often intimidating, oppressive, marginalizing, and can make a person less likely to trust the police or report concerning/dangerous/criminal behavior to them.