Fort Collins community members discuss sit lie ban

Rachel Telljohn

Fort Collins community members met to discuss a proposed city ordinance targeting disruptive behaviors on Wednesday. The ordinance has also been labeled a “No Sit-Lie Ban” and is viewed as specifically targeting the homeless population in Fort Collins.

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

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Roughly 30 members met at 7:30 a.m. at the Downtown Artery for what was described as a casual chat over coffee with city representatives and Fort Collins police officers.

“(This was) a better turnout than expected,” said Jeff Mihelich, deputy city manager for Fort Collins.

There were local business owners, Poudre River Public Library District representatives and other concerned community members in attendance. Attendees arrived with questions and their opinions regarding the ordinance.

Multiple people in attendance felt that the ordinance unfairly targets, or profiles the homeless population and that the ordinance is favoring business owners in Old Town. There were some that advocated for compassion towards the population and for alternative solutions to the ordinance.

One alternative solution could be an expansion of the Outreach Fort Collins initiative. Outreach Fort Collins helps to connect the homeless population, specifically downtown, to services needed and offer support.

Others made a case for a distinction between homeless persons in Fort Collins – those who are considered “local” homeless people – and transients, sometimes known as persons that are temporary guests in a place. Some felt that help should only be given to those defined as homeless, and that transients are a problem facing the city.

Disruptive behaviors described by those in favor of the ordinance were not always among the behaviors the ordinance would address, such as bodily fluids on the sidewalks.

Concerns were raised about how the ordinance would be enforced, particularly the one-hour rule. One community member said that it would end up being no different than the current two-hour parking rule.

Police officers attributed behaviors, not homelessness, as the root cause of the proposed ordinance. Mihelich reiterated that the ordinance focuses largely on behaviors.

Fort Collins considered a similar ban in 2015. Similar conversations and meetings were held then too.

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During the month of February, the city will hold conversations about the proposed ordinance to find out what community members like and do not like about the ordinance. The coffee chat was one of two city-hosted conversations. The next event will be an open house on Thursday, Feb. 23 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Northside Aztlan Center.

A survey has been sent out to business owners, and all community members are encouraged to participate. The survey asks a series of questions regarding disruptive behaviors in the downtown area.

Earlier this year, protesters gathered outside City Council meetings in order to protest a “No Sit-Lie” ban, or in essence, the proposed ordinance.

Rachel Telljohn can be reached at news@collegian.com.