Homelessness and Human Rights Summit brings awareness of homeless criminalization

Savannah Hoag

Colorado State University students and members of the Fort Collins community gathered together in the Lory Student Center for the Homelessness and Human Rights Summit discussing the criminalization of the homeless.

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Paul Boden speaks on his experience with the government in the homeless community (Julia Trowbridge | Collegian)

 

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The summit, set up by the Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement organization at CSU, is designed to create a dialogue about the issues present in America about homelessness.

One of many events happening during CSU’s Homelessness Awareness month, the summit brought speakers with backgrounds that range from religious to those who have been homeless themselves.

John Kefalas, Colorado State Senator, spoke on a panel with other elected representatives and grassroots activists. Kefalas is active in creating a community dialogue about homelessness.

“The issue of homelessness has plagued us for a long time,” Kefalas said. “There are lots of contributing factors.”

Lynn Thompson, a member of the Fort Collins Homeless Coalition, began learning about the criminalization of homeless while attending law school at the University of California Berkeley.

“Fort Collins, in the state of Colorado, issues the second highest number of camping tickets out of any city in the state,” Thompson said. “If you’re sleeping in a public place in Fort Collins you might get a ticket under four different laws.”

Paul Boden, the keynote speaker, is the Executive and Organizing Director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project. WRAP, founded in 2005, works to expose and eliminate the root causes of homeless human and civil rights abuses.

“Nobody can be criminalized for sleeping, sitting, standing still or laying down in a non-obstructive manner,” Boden said.

Boden, having been homeless at the age of 16, advocates for the a change to legislation that aids in ending homelessness. He believes that the number one solution to homelessness is simple, a home.

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“A home is the number one solution to homelessness,” Boden said. “I can tell you from having been on both sides of the equation that the end to homelessness is housing. Every single time.”

As of May 2015, 173 organizations join WRAP in fighting the criminalization of homeless. The number of endorsing organizations continues to grow, said Boden.

WRAP, focused on the West Coast, currently works to pass one of their grassroots campaigns, the Homeless Bill of Rights. The campaign, designed to protect the basic human rights of the homeless, is proposed in Oregon, California and Colorado.

“This is our legislation,” Boden said. “It’s in Colorado, it’s in California and it’s in Oregon.”

The Right to Rest Act in Oregon, California and Colorado is legislation proposed by WRAP that protects the following rights and prohibits the enforcement of any local laws that violate these rights:

  • Right to move freely, rest, sleep, pray and be protected in public space without discrimination
  • Right to rest in public spaces and protect oneself from the elements in a non obstruction manner
  • Right to occupy a legally parked vehicle
  • Right to share food and eat in public

Boden is sure WRAP will persevere to pass their legislation, characterized by the slogan, “House keys not handcuffs,” on the right of basic human rights for the homeless.

“We’re going to keep bringing it back,” Boden said. “We were human beings long before we were homeless.”

Collegian reporter Savannah Hoag can be reached online at news@collegian.com or via Twitter @sav_hoag.