A Year Without Sleep – Criminalizing Homelessness in Durango

“As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors on public property on the false premise that they had a choice in the matter.”

 

 

A new study co-produced by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado found police in Durango disproportionately enforcing the city’s camping ban against the homeless population, many of whom have been woken in the middle of the night and ticketed for sleeping in public.

The efforts to issue the report “A Year without Sleep” began earlier this year when the city of Durango announced its intention to close a legalized camp without offering the area’s homeless residents any substitute or replacement location. The ACLU of Colorado worked in conjunction with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty to review the Durango Police Department’s enforcement of the city’s camping ban and found just 3 of 98 tickets issued to folks using a tent or tarp. The remaining citations were given for sleeping, whether in a car, under just a blanket, or without cover of any kind.

ACLU staff attorney Rebecca Wallace is among the authors of the study and she told KGNU that her organization advised officials in Durango that the ordinance was being enforced in a manner that likely violated constitutional rights of the city’s homeless residents just days in advance of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on the matter of Martin v Boise.

Wallace contends that court’s finding affirmed their assertion and shared a passage from the decision that she believes is likely to become a notable quote of the case:

“As long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors on public property on the false premise that they had a choice in the matter.”

~ACLU attorney Rebecca Wallace, as per the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on the matter of Martin v. Boise.

According to data available at the Census Bureau, while Durango’s population runs just under 20,000 residents, the city’s budget in 2017 suggested the police were called more than 40,000 times over the space of a year.

City officials in Durango view the construction of a new police station as a top priority, but voters there in November rejected a tax increase to fund the effort, estimated at more than $19 million.