Study Shows Rise In Citations For Homeless

Graph demonstrating citations presented to the homeless community for trespassing from 2014 - 2017. Credit: “Too High A Price 2” report

Graph demonstrating citations presented to the homeless community for trespassing from 2014 - 2017. Credit: “Too High A Price 2” report

By Sarah Ford

A new report claims enforcement of ordinances in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Boulder is disproportionately targeting homeless populations at staggering rates. The study, conducted by students at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, is a follow-up to the 2016 report “Too High A Price,” which examined how cities across Colorado spend millions of dollars to enforce anti-homeless ordinances. 

The original report found that Denver spent $3.2 million enacting ordinances that are claimed to criminalize homelessness, including the camping ban, laws enforcing curfews, limits on panhandling, and public urination. Overall, the report found the cities of Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Durango, Fort Collins, and Grand Junction spent a total of $5.1 million in anti-homeless law enforcement. 

“Too High A Price 2,” released in May, found that there are now 37 “anti-homeless” ordinances in effect in Denver, Colorado Springs, and Boulder, a rise of one in Colorado Springs and four in Denver. 

It also reported that Denver Police have increased their contact with homeless individuals by 475 percent through street checks in the past three years, and increased the number of street checks performed by 539 percent. 

“Denver municipal ordinances that prohibit life sustaining activities exacerbate the difficulties of being homeless. Although some ordinances do not appear discriminatory on their face, they are, and have been, disproportionately enforced against those who are unhoused,” the report states. 

However, Denver Department of Human Services spokeswoman Julie Smith contested many of the report’s findings in a statement. 

“We appreciate the continued focus on homelessness by the law school, yet this report and its findings in many instances are incorrect or misleading,” Smith said. 

She said that while it is true contact with the homeless by law enforcement has increased by 475 percent since 2014, the number of “move on” orders – directing people to move themselves and their belongings – increased from 2,613 in 2014 to 2,764 in 2017, an increase of 151. Meanwhile, she said move on arrests dropped by .35 percent. 

“Reaching out to people experiencing homelessness and offering them shelter, food, clothing, resources, and other life-sustaining items is far from a nefarious activity,” said Smith. “It is a vested interest in the city that we check on those who stay out in the elements.” 

This year’s “Too High A Price” reported that Denver issued 17,809 citations for violations under “anti-homeless” ordinances, almost 11,000 of them going to people experiencing homelessness. It also said Denver police primarily issued citations for trespassing, curfews, and closures ordinances to people experiencing homelessness, including 59 percent of all trespass ordinances in 2017 and 76.5 percent of curfews ordinances in 2017. 

“Above all, efforts the city is making in terms of assistance have been overshadowed by its continued criminalization of homeless individuals,” the report states. “To make greater strides, bolstering programs, in terms of substance and funding, will undoubtedly help ensure better assistance. More so, the city should repeal the anti-ordinances, and ensure that inevitable behaviors do not result in criminal punishments.” ■