Letters: Homelessness, from the perspective of a homeless man

Guest Author

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Dear Collegian,
I am 63, and, like many other homeless people, I am living on the street because I cannot afford housing. 
My income consists of a pension of $877 a month.  There are several reasons people are homeless; they may be unemployed due to a disability, like myself; they may not make enough income due to minimum wage.  However, it is only the unemployable, drug addicts, alcoholics, and criminals that are featured as the typical homeless. 
A characterization and generalization of homeless people as uneducated, social outcasts is reinforced by the focus on the stereotypical unwashed, transient street bum.  I have lived in Fort Collins for 27 years; I had my own successful real estate company before an unfortunate series of investment failures.  Ironically, I have a bachelors’ degree in economics from CSU and I have an extensive background in law. I am NOT an alcoholic, criminal, or drug addict. 
Others, like myself, live out of our vehicles. We are the invisible homeless. There are hundreds of us living in Fort Collins.  The reason why we are very careful to conceal our presence in Fort Collins is due to city ordinances, which prohibit public or private ‘camping’ within city limits.  The punishment includes a jail sentence of six months, as well as fines of up to $2,600, and failure to pay the fine is punishable with imprisonment, according to the Fort Collins Municipal Code, and, we cannot afford the fine, so imprisonment is the inevitable consequence of being homeless in Fort Collins.  
Section 17-182 (b) of the Fort Collins Municipal Code states: “It is unlawful for any person to occupy any motor vehicle, recreational vehicle or trailer or knowingly permit any person to occupy any motor vehicle or recreational vehicle or trailer, as defined in § 20-104 of the Code, on private property for living or sleeping purposes.”  Sleeping in your vehicle is a crime in Fort Collins. 
Section 17-181 of the Fort Collins Municipal Code defines ‘camping’:
“Camping, for the purposes of this Section, shall mean to sleep, spend the night, reside or dwell temporarily with or without bedding or other camping gear and with or without shelter, or to conduct activities of daily living such as eating or sleeping.”  Fort Collins has made a crime out of living! 
I have been charged with ‘camping’, and I was told to leave town by police; they want me to live as a fugitive to avoid imprisonment for the offense of being poor.  The police and city officials know that if confronted with imprisonment, the homeless person charged with camping will choose to leave town; even if it means issuance of a warrant for their arrest and certain imprisonment if they ever return to Colorado.  Unlike others, I have chosen to stay and face a jury on the charge of ‘conducting activities of daily living such as eating or sleeping’.  
I thought you should know the personal side of homelessness.  
Let me know if you are considering a follow-up article on this issue.  
– An anonymous homeless Fort Collins citizen


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