Wednesday, August 26, 2015 – Last night, City Council decided not to pursue a sit-lie ban ordinance for the downtown area. This victory comes after weeks of hard work by FCHC members and other allies and advocates throughout the community, and deserves to be celebrated. The Coloradoan wrote: “Council members Tuesday voiced concerns that the ordinance would cause negative public perception, negatively affect vulnerable members of the community and cause legal issues.”(1)
The sit-lie ban ordinance was first aired publicly in early August, and formally proposed during a community presentation given by City staff on August 13th. Given the euphemistic title of the “Shared Public Spaces Ordinance,” this law would have made it illegal to sit or lie down in downtown Fort Collins under certain circumstances. No text of the ordinance was ever made public, but similar ordinances in many cities across the nation are used to try to drive people experiencing homelessness out of business areas. They are inhumane, costly to enforce and, like other criminalization measures, impose great burdens while doing nothing to reduce homelessness. A recent study of a similar ordinance in Honolulu concluded: “[T]he 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.”(2)
Fort Collins already has laws that criminalize homelessness, including bans on sleeping in public spaces and/or vehicles and restrictions on sleeping on private property even with the permission of the property owner. FCHC believes that these laws should be repealed, and that the City should stop writing tickets for camping, sleeping, and resting. As the Department of Justice recently opined, “It should be uncontroversial that punishing conduct that is a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human violates the Eighth Amendment. . . Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity-i.e., it must occur at some time in some place. If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless.”
FCHC has been making this argument to the City for years, asking them 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. Throughout this time, the City has not changed its camping laws or its practice of issuing hundreds of tickets for sleeping outside.
In sharp contrast to this history of slow response and inaction, City management responded to the complaints of a few business owners this summer with a sudden rush of proposals, including the sit-lie ban (or “Shared Public Spaces Ordinance”). Several of these proposals would have had severe and drastic repercussions for people experiencing homelessness in Fort Collins, and yet the City appeared ready to proceed with very little time for public input and discussion.
FCHC members were very concerned, and responded by writing and calling city council members and staff, by attending community presentations and city council sessions, by speaking to city staff and during opportunities for public comment, by seeking support from others in our community, by holding signs and wearing stickers (pictured above), and by making sure our voices were heard. Thanks to everyone who took action, city council decided not to move forward with a sit-lie ban at this time.
(1) Kyle, Sarah Jane. “City Council says no to “sit-lie” ordinance,” The Coloradoan, August 25, 2015: https://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/2015/08/25/city-council–shuts-down-sit-lie-proposal–disruptive-behaviors/32345133/
(2) “Study shows sit-lie laws have worsened Honolulu’s houseless problem,” The Hawaiian Independent, June 15, 2015: http://hawaiiindependent.net/story/study-shows-sit-lie-laws-have-worsened-honolulus-houseless-problem