A (partial) history of the Fort Collins Homeless Coalition

May 2014 – Fort Collins police issue 68 camping tickets in one month, 32 of them in a single night. This increase in enforcement spurs a corresponding increase in outspoken voices from within the homeless community and other concerned people.

June 2014 – A group begins to meet every other Friday afternoon to share concerns, identify issues, and discuss strategies for trying to change things. Members of this group write to city council to express concerns, to say that being homeless is not a crime, and to raise ideas for services that the homeless community needs (such as large storage lockers).

July 2014 – The City responds to the voices of downtown business owners, who claim to find panhandling disruptive, by proposing a “care meters” program. “Care meters” attempt to stop people from giving money to people panhandling by encouraging them to put the money into the meters instead. City staff is never forthcoming about what the money in the meters would have been used for.

July 2014 – City Council responds to concerns by shutting down the Care Meter proposal.

August 2014 – The police conduct another sweep, issuing another 32 tickets in one night. The Friday afternoon group, now calling itself the Fort Collins Homeless Coalition (FCHC), grows in number.

October 2014 – The city’s Director of Social Sustainability resigns due to pressure from community members offended and troubled by her highly problematic approach to homeless issues, such as her proposal for Care Meters.

October 2014 – FCHC forms subcommittees around key issues: (1) shelter options (looking at problems with the existing shelter options, and ways to improve things); (2) Jefferson Park (looking at the proposed sale and redevelopment); (3) Camping/panhandling/police (looking at decriminalization issues and strategies); (4) Homeless Bill of Rights (working with Denver Homeless Out Loud around the push for Right to Rest legislation); and (5) lockers.

November 2014 – The ACLU of Colorado contacts FCHC, looking for help finding plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the Constitutionality of Fort Collins’ panhandling ordinance. FCHC is successful in helping connect several people with the ACLU.

December 2014 – FCHC members decide to reorganize to make meetings more accessible to people currently experiencing homelessness.

January 15, 2015 – FCHC meets for the first time on a Friday night, from 5-10 pm in the Mennonite Fellowship church. Dinner is now included, along with rides to and from the shelters, and meetings are now weekly.

February 2015 – FCHC gains nonprofit status by affiliating with the Fort Collins Community Action Network (FCCAN).

February 2015 – The ACLU files suit against the City of Fort Collins for their unconstitutional anti-panhandling ordinance, and for a history of discriminatory enforcement of that ordinance against people who are homeless.

February 2015 – The City of Fort Collins settles with the ACLU, including revising the panhandling ordinance to remove the most problematic parts. “Aggressive panhandling” remains illegal, but passive panhandling (such as flying a sign, or requesting money from passersby) is protected speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

March 2015 – FCHC adopts mission statement, continues to grow.

March 2015 – FCHC members go to Denver to testify before the state legislative committee about the Homeless Bill of Rights.

March 2015 – FCHC issues a press release and letter to the city, demanding that the city stop ticketing people for resting, sleeping, and camping in public spaces, on private property with the permission of the property-owner, and in legally-parked vehicles.

April 2015 – Thanks to the Mennonite Fellowship, FCHC adds showers to our Friday nights.

April 2015 – Homeless Bill of Rights fails to make it out of committee, but will be re-introduced in 2016.

May 2015 – Serve 6.8 reveals that they destroyed a storage pod at the Murphy Center, tossing the belongings of 58 people in the landfill. FCHC writes an op-ed piece for the Coloradoan denouncing this action, and renews its call for better storage lockers. FCHC also begins connecting people who lost possessions with a volunteer attorney, so they can sue.

June 2015 – City staff suggest that they are open to a program that would allow people to sleep in vehicles in church parking lots. The Coloradoan writes an article claiming that “sweeps” (mass ticketing events aimed at camping) will not be used this year.

June 2015 – FCHC provides input into new “abandoned property” ordinance.

July 2015 – FCHC sends a delegation to San Francisco for the Western Regional Advocacy Project’s annual conference.

August 2015 – City management abruptly proposes four possible “solutions” to a suddenly-declared problem with “disruptive behavior” in the downtown area. Among these proposals are a sit-lie ban, which would make it illegal to sit or lie downtown under certain circumstances, and expanded location diversion, which would make it possible to ban people from the downtown altogether if they got certain kinds of tickets. FCHC is surprised and dismayed, and mobilizes immediately. Two weeks later, thanks to our actions, City Council decides not to pursue the sit-lie ban or the location diversion proposal at this time.

August/September 2015 – protesters set up camp in Jefferson Park, calling themselves “Occupy Jefferson Park.” FCHC provides support, police begin series of overnight ticketing/arrests that shut down protests within a week.

October 2015 – Fort Collins Natural Areas department contacts FCHC for input on new abandoned property ordinance. FCHC helps re-write ordinance to give more protection for people whose property is being seized.

November 2015 – following months of sustained pressure from FCHC, as well as publicity generated by Occupy Jefferson Park, the City of Fort Collins begins discussing a re-written camping ban. New camping ban language is extremely problematic and vague.

December 2015 – following lawsuits and FCHC public pressure, Serve 6.8 resigns from managing the Murphy Center.

December 2015 – following the example of FCHC, other organizations/churches begin exploring weekend warming centers.

January 2016 – FCHC begins significant community outreach around camping ban (and proposed revisions). Meetings with City council members, City departments, cops, presentations to boards & commissions, presentations to churches and non-profits, and more.

February 2016 – well-known local man, and FCHC member, Doug Shields dies of exposure on a bitterly cold night, after being turned away from Catholic Charities. FCHC writes op-ed, speaks at City Council, shares our sorrow and outrage. Our campaign to reform shelters, ensure adequate warming centers, and expand winter shelter options continues to gather strength.

February 2016 – FCHC members go to Denver to testify before the state legislative committee about the 2016 Right to Rest Bill.

March 2016 – Following months of effort to write a better camping ban, the Fort Collins City Manager’s office abruptly (and undemocratically) halts the process. There will be no new camping ban.

April 2016 – Following months/years of sustained campaigning from FCHC and from people who stay in shelters, the City announces plan to coordinate “severe winter weather protocols” so that no one will be turned away during seriously cold weather. City agrees to fund sufficient women’s shelter beds year-round.

May 2016 – FCHC begins scaling back Friday night meals, restructuring meetings.

June 2016 – FCHC gets “Green Giant” award for community organizing from Green Party.

June 2016 – Library Park neighborhood holds “concerned citizens meeting” at Old Town Library to talk about “transients.” Extreme hostility toward homeless people is on display, with cops and several City Council members in attendance.

July 2016 – FCHC members circulate petition asking for check-in times at Catholic Charities to move 15 minutes later, so that men who eat at Rescue Mission would have time to eat AND stand in lottery line. Over a hundred people sign. FCHC also begins survey on locker needs (attached to 2016 R2R criminalization survey).

September 2016 – FCHC joins “Sunday Service NOW” coalition, working to expand TransFort services to 7 days a week.

December 2016 – FCHC begins handing off Friday Night warming center to FC Mennonite Fellowship.

January 2017 – after hearing from downtown businesses and “concerned citizens,” the City Manager’s office proposes a Sit/Lie Ban. Among other things, the proposed Ban would make it illegal to sit on a bench for longer than one hour; to sit, kneel, or lie throughout wide swaths of downtown; or to have “too many” personal possessions. City Staff also suggests reserving additional jail space at the LCDC for “repeat municipal offenders,” and instigating a “don’t give to panhandlers” program downtown.

January-March 2017 – FCHC organizes massive community response to the Sit/Lie proposal. Hundreds of people come to City Council meetings. Hundreds more send in postcards against sit/lie bans. The ACLU condemns the proposal, FCHC holds sit-ins downtown. Tons of outrage and outreach, which is successful in halting the proposed sit/lie ban. Instead, Councilmember Gino Campana directs staff to explore funding lockers (an alternative suggested by FCHC members for years).

April 2017 – FCHC members go to Denver to testify before the state legislative committee about the 2017 Right to Rest Bill.

April 2017 – FCHC begins work to find lockers site, managing partner, etc.

July 2017 – City staff recommend re-writing Fort Collins’ obstruction ordinance to include more sit/lie language. FCHC begins organizing against this.August 2017 – City passes revised obstruction ordinance, a defeat for FCHC and all who fought against it.

October 2017 – lockers begin to move forward with FCMF as managing partner.

November 2017 – FCHC opposes the creation of Fort Collin’s first Business Improvement District (BID) in Midtown.

February 2018 – City votes against funding lockers. Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship proceeds with private fundraising, bringing increased storage options to Fort Collins.

April 2018 – in response to lobbying from FCHC, the Parks Department installs first public year-round hydration station at Oak St. Plaza