by Aubrey Boggs, Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator
Denver’s camping ban helps no one. Plain and simple, this ban criminalizes people for existing. People should be able to keep themselves safe from the elements. HB 1314, the Right to Rest bill, would decriminalize individuals who are simply trying to survive. This bill would ensure that individuals experiencing homeless have “the right to use and move freely in public spaces, to rest in public spaces, to eat or accept food in any public space where food is not prohibited, to occupy a legally parked vehicle, and to have a reasonable expectation of privacy of one’s property” There is nothing “criminal” about a person simply sleeping, eating food, or holding on to their property. It is criminal, instead, to punish and ticket people for these things.
Three individuals recently fought this criminalization in court. Randy Russell, Jerry Burton, and Terese Howard are facing $999 in fines or up to a year in jail for using items other than their own clothing to protect themselves from the elements. Today, a jury found them guilty. Three individuals that were simply trying to protect themselves from Denver’s ever changing weather are going to be sentenced this evening. The defendants found this ban to be a threat to their survival and took the means necessary, sleeping bags and tents, to protect themselves and will be criminally prosecuted for it. (Meltzer, 2017)
This is not justice; this is the exact opposite.
We can support the effort to end this unjust ban. We can call our legislators, volunteer with groups like Homeless Out Loud, and disrupt our privilege by putting ourselves out there when injustice occurs. We will not keep people from experiencing homelessness by treating them like criminals. People deserve the right to survive, and we need to help them fight for that right.
If you or someone you know is interested in testifying for HB 1314, or would like someone to share your story through testimony, please contact Aubrey Boggs, advocacy and outreach coordinator for the Colorado Mental Wellness Network, at (720)842-9222 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Testimony training and support at committee hearings can be provided to individuals looking to share their story.
Your voice matters. Your story is powerful. Let use our voices and actions to fight for the rights of our fellow Coloradans.
House Bill 17-1314 text: http://leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb17-1314
Debunking myths about homelessness: http://www.westword.com/news/homelessness-in-denver-the-cold-hard-facts-behind-six-myths-7348310
Talking points on HB1314 from Homeless Out Loud: https://coloradohomelessbillofrights.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/talking-points.pdf
Article on camping ban trial: https://www.denverite.com/denver-jury-finds-three-defendants-guilty-violating-urban-camping-ban-33085/
Meltzer, E. ( 2017). A Denver jury finds all three defendants guilty of violating urban camping ban. Denverite.