Reed: Fort Collins’ homeless population suffers under city policies

Spencer Reed

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.

Homelessness has become an ongoing problem in the City of Fort Collins. Policy makers have been addressing the issue poorly, therein leading to unfair penalties being given to disadvantaged vagrants by law enforcement. 

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Throughout 2016, there were around 300 homeless in Fort Collins. A concerning twelve percent of the population is under 18. Sixty-eight percent of the homeless persons in Fort Collins identified themselves as disabled. These unsettling numbers are on the rise, and the city is currently handling the issue with only a couple of programs. Such programs, like Safe Place to Rest, are not enough to contain the troubling issue.

Safe Place to Rest, a program adopted by Fort Collins, is shaped after a similar one based out of Nashville, Tennessee. It includes sheltering cites grounded around the community that are completely volunteer based. In the first year of the program one-hundred-twenty guests were aided by sixty-four volunteers. The programs inaugural year was considered a success. However, I believe it still needs much improvement, because only a fraction of the total homeless population received help.

Homeward 2020 is another Foco based program that promotes improving vagrancy around town. Their efforts go towards finding the means needed to create housing opportunities for those on the streets. The program does so through collecting data, being an advocate, bringing important people together around the issue, as well as informing the community about the topic. Their website specifically says, “Homeward 2020 advocates for the creation of a transferable system that drives an efficient and effective process for the time between identifying people experiencing homelessness who want housing to a solution that meets their needs.”

The City of Fort Collins grants Homeward 2020 $25,000 per-year. A generous act, but it is still not nearly enough to address the city’s homelessness problem considering the amount of transients turned down by the city’s most notable shelters. 

In just July of this year there were sixteen nights were the Fort Collins Rescue Mission hit its capacity for male residents. The Catholic Charity Shelter experienced the same exact issue twenty-one nights of the month as well. When transients are turned away from shelters such as these, it puts them at risk to receive jail time for violating the city’s sit-lie law.

According to the sit-lie law, those who:

  • Leave personal property unattended on a public sidewalk or bench
  • Kneel or lay within 10 feet of a public restroom or transit facility
  • Lie on things not designated as sitting areas within 20 feet of a transit facility

run the risk of being placed in jail for 6 months as well as being fined up to $2,650.

This is not the only unfair Fort Collins law that hinders the less-fortunate. The non-smoking policies placed in and around Old Town are biased against the immobile homeless. Authorities who catch those smoking within the banned zones could be issued a fine up to $1,000 plus a mandatory court appearance. Failure to appear in court after receiving a ticket may lead to arrest.

Not only is this process unjust for the homeless in Foco, but also for the taxpayers. Between 2012 and 2016 just 10 transients shared almost 5 thousand jailed days, which ended up costing around $500 thousand in jail operations. The top-twenty most arrested persons in Fort Collins have accounted for about 7.5 thousand jailed days. That’s over 20 years of jail time alone, and most of these detainments have been the result of missed court dates following disorderly conduct tickets.

It seems that efforts made by the City of Fort Collins to control its current homeless issue have had no sustainable impact. It’s not the fact that the city isn’t addressing the issue, because they most definitely are. The problem is that they’re efforts have made no major impact, and transients as well as tax payers around Foco are paying an enormous price.

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Spencer Reed can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @sbreed96