“Outrageous, cruel and absurd”: ACLU of Colorado discredits FoCo’s proposed sit-lie ban

Rachel Telljohn

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado wrote a letter asking the City of Fort Collins to abandon the proposed sit-lie ban, part of the Compassion and Consequences policy proposal that seeks to combat homelessness in the city.

The letter was sent Thursday, Feb. 16, after ACLU members had a chat with employees of the City about the proposed ordinance. 

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The letter calls the ban “outrageous, cruel and absurd.” The ACLU of Colorado cites the ban as specifically targeting the homeless population, which holds the potential to violate First Amendment rights, according to the letter.

“We’re hoping to persuade the City that the ordinance should not be adopted,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the Colorado ACLU branch.

Andy is a homeless man living in Fort Collins. If he had the chance to go back to school, he would study photography. Photo by Ryan Arb

Silverstein explained that when an ordinance such as the one proposed targets a specific population, it becomes a legal problem because it can have First Amendment or due process issues attached to it.

The proposed ordinance would only allow individuals in the downtown area – the same boundaries as the current smoke-free ordinance – to sit on a bench for one hour at a time.

It would also prohibit lying or sitting on sidewalks or leaving personal items on benches, the ground, etc.

The ordinance would be in effect from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day, and would also apply to transit centers and restrooms owned by the City.

Silverstein said the ban appears to make an individual pushing a shopping cart on the sidewalk seem illegal. 

In the letter, the ACLU of Colorado explains they have always opposed legislation that would criminalize those experiencing homelessness, but that the proposed ordinance is one of the worst in terms of its focus on those populations.

The letter raises concerns community members shared last Wednesday morning, such as how the one hour sitting rule would be enforced, or how the ordinance will be enforced equally. 

Another recent City proposal would cost Larimer County up to $150,000 a year to purchase jail beds for repeat municipal offenders, or potentially people ticketed more than once under the proposed no sit-lie ban, according to the letter. The letter cites the other proposal as costly, in addition to also being cruel and absurd.

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Both the ACLU letter and members of the community raised the issue of developing better programs in Fort Collins to deal with the issue of homelessness. 

The letter states that all cities should address the underlying problems of homelessness, rather than attempting to sweep it out of sight, as if people without a home have no right to live. 

The City will host an open house Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Northside Aztlan Center to further discuss the proposed ordinance. 

Collegian reporter Rachel Telljohn can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @racheltelljohn