News Briefs

Colorado Springs To Hold Vote On Controversial Sit-Lie Ban

By Sarah Ford 

After months of debate, the Colorado Springs City Council has decided to postpone the vote on a proposal to ban sitting or lying on streets and sidewalks in downtown Colorado Springs. 

The measure, according to proposing members Keith King and Tom Strand, is intended to protect and promote business interests in the downtown area by keeping streets and sidewalks safe.

However, the ordinance has received significant pushback, not only from other city council members but also civil rights groups in Colorado Springs and Colorado. Many argue that the bill unfairly targets people experiencing homelessness and opens the door to discrimination against them. 

“It is a wrongheaded, misguided measure,” said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legal director Mark Silverstein. “It opens the opportunity for police to use the ordinance for selective enforcement.” 

If passed, the measure carries with it a $500 fine; the originally introduced proposal included a $2,500 fine and as much as six months in jail. Pedestrians would be banned from sitting, kneeling, or lying on city streets and sidewalks between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. 

In a series of working sessions and public meetings since the introduction of the ordinance, proponents have met with contentious debate over its intended target, leading to a series of significant changes in the language of the ordinance. 

In addition to the reduced fine and removed jail sentence, a portion specifying which planters and benches could be used for sitting was taken out. 

Supporters of the ordinance maintain that it does not target a particular group. 

In October, the council presented a slideshow outlining the reasoning behind the introduction of the measure. They argued that a person in public right-of-ways “creates a sense of disorder, deterring people from visiting downtown and Old Colorado City.”

“A common problem many cities face is maintaining safe and vibrant commercial districts... We welcome the public’s input on the best way to address this pedestrian safety issue,” councilman Tom Strand wrote in an email to KOAA Denver. 

But civil rights and activist organizations have responded that the intentions of the bill remain clear. Several city council members echoed this response, as well as members of the public who have had a large showing at open public meetings about the ordinance.

The ACLU responded with a series of concerns about the precedents set down by the ordinance, and its potential effect on the Colorado Springs downtown area. 

“This ordinance is clearly being proposed to give police another tool of selective enforcement to target, harass, and displace people who are homeless or living in poverty.  Public spaces are more than just right-of-ways for shoppers and consumers,” the ACLU statement read. “Courts have long recognized the importance of public streets and sidewalks as forums for free speech and peaceable assembly, and this ordinance would infringe on those fundamental rights.”

Opponents also fear that the ordinance will take away federal funding from Housing and Urban Development (HUD), especially after recent developments. In September, HUD released a Notice of Funding Availability for Continuum of Care (CoC), which distributes funding nationally for homeless projects. 

HUD announced that it will now look at the steps being taken in each applicant community to reduce laws which criminalize homelessness, which this ordinance would likely fall under. Communities can be docked by up to two points for not taking steps to reduce these laws. 

“We are hoping to persuade cities not to rely on criminal law to address homelessness and situations of poverty,” said Silverstein. “There are a range of ordinances that criminalizes it, but that doesn’t really get at the root of the problem.” 

The ACLU is coming away from a recent victory in a lawsuit against an anti-panhandling law passed in Grand Junction, which was found to violate freedom of speech. While the organization is putting its full energy in ensuring the sitting ban in Colorado Springs is not passed, Silverstein says legal action is not out of the question. 

With the preliminary vote on the ordinance scheduled for December or January, there is still ample time for debate before the final say. ■

 

 

World Toilet Day

By Sonia Christensen

Credit: Giles ClasenOn Nov. 19, be prepared to observe World Toilet Day. The goal of World Toilet Day is to raise awareness about people who do not have access to a toilet. Currently, 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to improved sanitation, which means they use facilities that do not provide adequate separation from human waste.

In Denver, many people still lack access to toilets. In the downtown area, there are a limited number of restrooms available to the general public. Though this is an issue for everyone downtown, it is a particular burden for those experiencing homelessness. Among other problems, lack of access to a public restroom can mean urinating in public, which, in turn, can mean citation and a fine—a fine that many can’t afford to pay. 

Fortunately, there has been an effort to provide more public toilets in Denver. According to Councilwoman At-Large Robin Kniech, “Research and planning for expanded public restrooms in central Denver continues…The goal is to install two new temporary, pilot restrooms somewhere in central Denver before the end of the year, along with funding in the 2016 budget for additional restrooms based on the lessons learned from the pilot.” 

World Toilet Day is a day to remind us of the importance of this type of progress. It is a day to consider the necessity of access to a safe place to fulfill a basic human need and a day to think about finding a way to ensure that everyone, worldwide and here in Denver, has the ability to do so. ■

 

 

Project Homeless Connect

By Doug Hrdlicka

Denver’s annual Project Homeless Connect will offer free goods and services to homeless families and individuals on Nov. 17 at the Colorado Convention Center. 

Denver’s Road Home, Mile High United Way, and the City and County of Denver will offer medical care, clothing, haircuts, employment services, and benefit assistance, in addition to many other resources and services that help those who might not have access to them.

“A homeless family or individual could spend months connecting with many social service providers and government benefit offices in an effort to improve their situations,” said Bennie Milliner, executive director for Denver’s Road Home in a press release. 

One of the greatest benefits of PHC is that it allows access to these services under one roof.

“Transportation can be a big barrier, so consolidating all of these services into one place at one time helps make it just a little bit easier to access the services needed to help move toward housing,” said Julie Smith, spokesperson for Denver’s Road Home. 

Between 1,000 and 2,000 people are expected to attend this event. This is nearly half of the homeless population reported by Denver Metro Homeless Initiative’s 2015 Point-in-Time survey. ■