Protesters urge Fort Collins City Council to fund lockers for homeless

Samantha Ye

Members of the Mennonite Fellowship, the Homelessness Coalition, and other community members gathered in front of City Hall before the Tuesday night meeting to support the community installing lockers for the homeless to use. (Olive Ancell | Collegian)

A demonstration outside City Hall preceded the Fort Collins City Council meeting Tuesday night.

About a dozen citizens participated in the demonstration, hosted by the Fort Collins Homeless Coalition, urging the City to go through with funding a pilot project which would provide 20 lockers for homeless individuals. The protesters also addressed City Council during the meeting.

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Last spring, the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship, located at 300 E. Oak St., offered the City space outside its building to build additional lockers for the homeless. Unlike the lockers provided at Murphy Center, which are only accessible during business hours on weekdays, the proposed lockers would have 24/7 accessibility.

Several community members emphasized that, due to varying work shifts and unexpected emergencies, having 24/7 access to the lockers is an important factor to have.

After months of research, however, City staff are now recommending the City not fund the project, citing safety concerns they say will not be mitigated with the current approach to supervision, according to the memo City staff sent to the City Council. 

If another source of funding is found, the project can still continue. 

Steve Ramer, a pastor at FCMF, said many of the things in the memo report are misleading and show a bias against the homeless.

“Currently, (FCMF provides the homeless) shower, clothes, and a warm place to rest twice a week. We’ve never asked for a dime,” Ramer said during the meeting. “I want you not to thank us. I want you to provide us some money—very little money—to help us provide for those in need.”

The total estimated cost for the lockers, awnings, and one-year of supervision is $10,500, according to Beth Sowder, social sustainability department director.

Draft guidelines from the FCMF include prohibiting drugs and weapons from being stored in the lockers. Guests also cannot change their clothes, sleep or loiter by the lockers.

Based on community input, the church would also buy a security camera and better lighting for the storage area.  

All potential locker guests would be interviewed by paid church staff, and lockers would be assigned based on need for one three-month period.

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Community members gathered and spoke in front of city council to support a proposed pilot project that would potentially supply lockers for the homeless to use. Many in support of the project wore stickers that said, “Lockers? Yes!” (Photo by Olive Ancell | Collegian)

“(We), as Fort Collins, are a super strong community, and we pride ourselves on inclusion and equity,” said Sarah King, an intern for Fort Collins Community Action Network. “Providing these lockers would be a move at courage, leadership and that equity.”

Demonstrators said it was hard for homeless people to get jobs and find housing when they have to carry all their belongings with them, and that their large packs made them targets of judgment.

“It’s hard to go to job services and going in with a big suitcase and saying, ‘Hi, I’m looking for a job,’” said Carol Yi Bebo, a homeless single mother. “I’m sorry, but they will turn (you) down,” 

Deborah Walker James from the Fort Collins Homeless Coalition said 19 months of dragging her belongings around while homeless left her with permanent disabilities.

“(The homeless) don’t need a hand-out—they need a hand up,” Walker James said. 

Mayor Pro Tem Gerry Horak said because the locker issue was not on the agenda tonight, City Council did not get to hear from the opposing side of the issue. The issue will be moved to next month’s agenda.

Collegian reporter Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.