City Manager’s Office Halts Camping Ban Reform in Fort Collins

March 2016 — From the beginning, the Fort Collins Homeless Coalition has fought against the Fort Collins camping ban. Coalition members have always stood up against the ban: sharing their stories; fighting their tickets; speaking out against the ban in City Council meetings; meeting with representatives from the city, police department, agencies, even the state legislature to argue against camping bans; proposing alternatives and sharing data; doing education and outreach; and most challenging of all, simply trying to exist as homeless people in Fort Collins.

In November 2015, city staff informed Coalition members that Fort Collins was considering making changes to its camping ban. At the time, city staff and the Coalition did not agree on what changes were necessary – the Homeless Coalition wanted ticketing to stop, while city staff proposed superficial changes to the ordinance that would not have changed how it was enforced. Coalition members explained why we needed to do better, and city staff labeled us “unreceptive.”

Throughout the early months of 2016, Coalition members worked non-stop on grassroots outreach. We gave presentations, held meetings, recruited supporters, and began to make progress. When it became clear that we would never persuade Fort Collins to stop ticketing altogether, we began discussing a possible compromise.

The Homeless Coalition compromise, which was worked out during our Friday night meetings and voted on through our democratic process, would have codified a policy of not issuing camping tickets overnight. We arrived at this compromise with deep concerns about whether it would be implemented fairly, or whether police would simply begin issuing higher numbers of other kinds of tickets. Nevertheless, we were willing to give this compromise a fair trial – letting people sleep uninterrupted overnight would be a substantial benefit to health & safety, and might have been a step toward affirming basic human rights in Fort Collins.

Unfortunately, we seem to have been too successful. Members of the general public began to stand up in support of the rights of our homeless neighbors. Several members of City Council, our elected representatives, indicated that they were willing to support some kind of compromise. Just as we began to feel cautiously optimistic that a more humane law might actually stand a chance of winning, city staff unilaterally halted the process.

Apparently, the chance that we might win was too high, and too frightening, for our City Manager’s office. On March 7th, city staff abruptly pulled the camping ban off city council’s agenda, effectively stopping any vote on our compromise. This put a halt to public discussion, and entirely stopped the democratic process. During a heated meeting with city staff, the deputy city manager claimed that he had made this decision because of “public input.” Homeless Coalition members have been a part of every forum for public input since the beginning, and a clear majority of the feedback received by the City was favorable to our compromise.

It would appear that “public input” does not include input from Homeless Coalition members or supporters. We need to change this perception. Please come to public comment of the City Council meeting, 300 Laporte Avenue. We’ll be at Everyday Joes at 5 if you’d care to join us there beforehand.