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DU Law School Study Shows Costly Criminalization of Homeless: Boulder Fares Worst in State

Posted: February 16, 2016 at 11:17 pm by , in Breaking News, Early Morning News, Featured, Morning Magazine

Today the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law and its Homeless Advocacy Policy Project released findings from a study titled Too High a Price:  What Criminalizing Homelessness Costs Colorado.   Analyzed were the data from the 76 most populous cities in Colorado and the anti-homeless ordinances of each.  Professor Nantiya Ruan was faculty coordinator and editor of the report, “Is Colorado criminalizing homelessness?  We took that as an empirical question.”

The data showed findings that have been reported to Boulder City Council and Boulder’s Human Relations Commission before:   Boulder’s camping ban is the worst in the state for criminalizing homelessness.

“In Boulder there was a total of 1,767 citations under the camping ban from 2010 to 2014,”  Michael Lagarde is a 3rd year law student who was one author of the study, “The next closest city was Fort Collins which issued 861 citations.  So [Boulder] is enforcing its camping ban at a much higher rate.”

The study’s findings showed that Colorado criminalizes homelessness by criminalizing the behaviors associated with everyday human behavior such as sitting, lying, eating, and bodily functions such as human waste elimination.

Despite Denver City Council assertion that police officers do not ticket or do so as a last resort and that the 2012 highly contested Urban Camping Ban was designed to get those who need them into services, Ray Lyall who lives on the streets of Denver and is a member of the homeless advocacy organization Denver Homeless Out Loud said that that is not what happens. “It looks good on paper.  They say they do it.  They don’t do it.”  He said that during a police raid of tents last week when the temperatures dipped into single digits that police drove off without aiding the only person who was removed from tents who expressed a need for those services.

At a committee hearing of the 2015 version of the Right to Rest last April, Boulder Assistant City Attorney Kathy Haddock said that she was representing the City of Boulder despite multiple testimonies at the hearing from Boulderites in support of the bill, “Boulder’s ordinances have been successful because they have resulted in getting people who need services to alleviate their homelessness into the system that can help them.  Homelessness issues are not addressed simply by providing people a place to rest.  In fact using public property to become a replacement home for people means that that property also becomes their bathroom, cooking area, trash bin, and congregating area.  As a result those places become unusable by others and are very expensive for the city to provide trash and human waste removal services.”

The 2015 bill failed in committee.

Sara-Jane Cohen who prepares meals at her synagogue for those who need them asked city council tonight that given the results of the study she would expect council not to repeat last year’s challenge of the bill when a similar bill HB1191 will be heard next week in the State House.  To the contrary she asked that an official be sent to testify in support of the bill, “Now that you have more information about the harmful and expensive effects of the city’s camping ban, I urge you to support the proposed legislation.”

Overall, the study concluded that criminalizing behaviors associated with homelessness fails to address the causes of homelessness, is a significant cost to taxpayers and promotes conditions that keep people homeless.