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

April 15, 2015

DENVER – Today, the State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee of the Colorado House of Representatives will hear testimony on House Bill 1264, 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 1264:

It has become clear to the ACLU that the Right to Rest Act is both timely and desperately needed.

There has been a rapid acceleration in the past few years of municipalities across Colorado criminalizing homelessness, making it illegal to do everything necessary for survival when homeless, including the harmless act of sleeping or resting, by banning it pretty much anywhere.

Having no home is not a crime, but it is difficult to find people in that circumstance who have not experienced ticketing, arrest, jail time, unaffordable fines or harsh encounters with law enforcement, mostly just for existing in the wrong place and time, violating curfew or loitering laws, ordinances against camping or even sitting, lying down, or sleeping in your own legally parked car.

Without a state law protecting peaceful rest and survival for those without a home, we will continue to see 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.

I could share countless stories and examples, such as our client David Madison who was turned away from homeless shelters with no more room on a cold night in Boulder, arrested under a camping ban for using a sleeping bag.  He could have legally slept in only his clothes at 11 degrees, but the sleeping bag counted as illegal shelter, so he was treated as a criminal.

In Fort Collins, the ACLU found that police were arresting people under aggressive panhandling laws for silently holding signs, going far beyond the law itself, as well as Constitutional boundaries.  In Wheat Ridge, laws against loitering on school grounds are being used to arrest people for sitting on park benches nowhere near a school.  In Larimer County there has been a spike in arrests around homelessness, and these arrests are costly.  In a four-year period ending August of 2014, taxpayers had to pay for Larimer County jails to hold people who were homeless or transient for 96,475 inmate days.

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.  I have to ask, if you truly have no home, just where exactly are you supposed to go?

Read the Colorado Right to Rest Act: http://coloradohomelessbillofrights.org/colorado-right-to-rest-act/

Visit the ACLU of Colorado Criminalization of Homelessness campaign page: http://aclu-co.org/campaigns/criminalization-homelessness/



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