THIS WEEK on CHANGE.ORG Cities Criminalize Homelessness


(Comment:  This particular petition is for Boulder, CO, but it could be anywhere in the U.S.  With job losses and increasing unemployment, and lack of health insurance could put any one of us on the street at any time.  Don’t ever think that it can’t happen to you. Smk )


Last November, a homeless man in Boulder, Colorado named David Madison tried to get a bed for the night at the city’s only local shelter, but was turned away due to a lack of space.

Without any other options, Madison ended up on the sidewalk with just a sleeping bag to protect him on a night when the temperature dipped to 11 degrees. He was approached by the police, but rather than offer assistance, they gave Madison a ticket for "camping," which is illegal in Boulder.

Madison wasn’t camping, of course. There was no campfire and certainly no s’mores. But Boulder keeps on the books – and fervently enforces – a thinly veiled anti-homelessness law that says sleeping outdoors with "shelter" of any form, including a sleeping bag or even a blanket, constitutes illegal camping.

The ticket given to Madison was one of just 1,600 issued over the last four years. The homeless are rarely able to pay their fines and few show up for court hearings, resulting in warrants for their arrest. When they’re apprehended, they are given two days in jail – one for the camping and one for the court no-show.

Since 2006, Boulder taxpayers have paid for well over 1,000 nights in jail for people ticketed for sleeping outdoors, the vast majority of whom are homeless.

Earlier this year, hundreds of members emailed Boulder’s mayor, Susan Osborne, demanding an end to the city’s no camping ordinance. In response to this online grassroots pressure and a simultaneous in-person protest from Boulder’s homeless and their advocates, the city council committed to taking steps toward repealing the ordinance. But a week later the council backed out, with Mayor Osborne saying she had been "boxed in" by the petitioners and protesters and changed her mind.

Fortunately this past week the repeal effort gained renewed energy, as the ACLU of Colorado filed suit against the city of behalf of Madison, calling the ordinance unconstitutional.

The end of this unfair ordinance could be near, but the homeless in Boulder need your continued support. Remind Mayor Osborne that while she has a choice to end the ordinance, David Madison had no choice but to sleep on the ground that night he was turned away from the shelter. Take action now.

Unfortunately, Boulder’s camping ordinance is only one of countless laws across the nation with the primary objective of criminalizing homelessness, at the same time as the economy is forcing a dramatic rise in the homeless population. Miami recently considered prohibiting the public from feeding the homeless, Venice Beach police began chasing homeless people off the beach after midnight, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom continues to push an ordinance that would ban sitting on city sidewalks.

Being homeless is not a crime – and the behavior necessary for survival shouldn’t be either. Rather than punishing the homeless, we should be supporting them with services that help them get back on their feet. Start today by telling Boulder to end their no camping ordinance now.


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