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Prepared Testimony of ACLU of Colorado Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley on the Right to Rest Act

2/24/16

Today, the Local Government Committee of the Colorado House of Representatives will consider House Bill 1191, a bill to ensure that all people, regardless of their economic circumstances or social status, have the right to rest and move about in public places without fear of being ticketed, harassed, or arrested.

The following is the prepared testimony of ACLU of Colorado Executive Nathan Woodliff-Stanley on HB 1191:

Thank you Madam Chair and members of the committee. My name is Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, Executive Director of the ACLU of Colorado, and I speak in favor of House Bill 1191.

It is clear to the ACLU that this bill is both timely and desperately needed. At least 76 communities in Colorado have passed more than 350 ordinances criminalizing nearly everything that a person who is homeless needs to do to survive, including asking for money, seeking food, or the harmless act of sitting, sleeping or resting pretty much anywhere, from a park bench to your own car. I would submit that it is essentially impossible to be homeless in much of Colorado without breaking the law, and I would challenge anyone who doubts that to try.

We are seeing a race to the bottom as municipalities compete to be the most hostile to people experiencing homelessness, hoping to drive them somewhere else, anywhere else, such as another nearby municipality, or hiding them in jails at a taxpayer cost of millions of dollars. Communities copy each other’s ordinances, and to the extent communities are successful in driving away some of their unhoused population, it affects neighboring communities that don’t pass these ordinances. The Right to Rest Act recognizes that this proliferation of anti-homeless ordinances is a matter of statewide concern, and that the only way to stop this race to the bottom is to pass statewide legislation limiting the criminalization of homelessness.

The ACLU has witnessed first-hand the statewide nature of this issue, as we have fought the targeting of unhoused persons and successfully curtailed unconstitutional panhandling ordinances in communities from Grand Junction to Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, with ripple effects on existing or proposed ordinances in Telluride, Greeley, Denver, Boulder, Durango, Steamboat Springs, and many other locations. Municipalities do watch each other, and there should be no doubt that this is a matter of statewide concern.

Nearly all of the objections to the Right to Rest Act in last year’s legislative session were related to the private right of action and a stated fear of frivolous lawsuits, which is not an issue in this year’s bill. All this bill does is to put the brakes on a headlong rush across Colorado to put criminal penalties on people who are homeless, which obviously does nothing to solve the underlying problems that cause homelessness in the first place.

It is hard enough to be homeless without facing a constant threat of arrest, often literally for doing nothing, being pushed out of public spaces that are supposed to be public, having your civil liberties violated and being unable to meet your most basic human needs, including simple rest. Virtually nowhere in Colorado is there adequate affordable housing or even enough shelter beds for those who need them. When the police say, “move along,” just where exactly are you supposed to go? Read the research, and you will see that we need this law.



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