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Homeless Groups Rally for "Right to Rest"

The "Right to Rest Act" would protect the rights of homeless people in Colorado to move freely, rest, and eat in public spaces. (Allan Warren/Wikimedia Commons)
The "Right to Rest Act" would protect the rights of homeless people in Colorado to move freely, rest, and eat in public spaces. (Allan Warren/Wikimedia Commons)
February 23, 2016

DENVER - Homeless rights supporters will gather at the State Capitol on Wednesday to support what they're calling the "Right to Rest Act."

House Bill 1191, sponsored by House Rep. Joe Salazar (D-Thornton), would nullify local laws making it illegal to sit or sleep in public spaces.

Terese Howard, organizer with Denver Homeless Out Loud, says the measure is critical to ending what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and others have called the criminalization of homelessness.

"This bill is necessary because sleep is necessary," says Howard. "This bill is necessary because sitting down is necessary. People have to exist in public space when you do not have a private home of your own."

Howard says under new HUD guidelines, cities that punish people for sitting or sleeping could miss out on almost $2 billion in national grants annually.

A similar bill died in committee last session, and was opposed by city governments and others who claimed the laws were designed to push people into shelters.

Howard says Coloradans who are homeless outnumber available shelter beds, and many people avoid shelters due to safety concerns.

According to a new University of Denver report, Colorado's 76 largest cities have 351 anti-homeless ordinances on the books, and six cities spent at least $5 million enforcing them over a five-year period.

It also found residents must earn $35 an hour, over four times the minimum wage - to afford median-priced rental housing. Howard says for many Coloradans, the risk of experiencing homelessness is real.

"Anybody can end up in this position due to the loss of a job, or a split-up in the family, a death in the family, a divorce," says Howard. "Anybody can become homeless in the drop of a hat. And everybody thinks, 'Oh, that's not going to happen to me.'"

She says the solution isn't spending tax dollars citing and jailing people for sitting or sleeping, but investing that money in affordable housing and other efforts to prevent and end homelessness.


Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO