What is the Colorado Homeless Right to Rest Act?

The Homeless Right to Rest Act has been in and out of the State Capitol building for three years running. And each year, after lengthily hearings, the proposal—often referred to as the Homeless Bill of Rights—dies in committee.

The bill would bring Colorado one step closer to banning the criminalization of homelessness. It has the intention of establishing “basic rights for persons experiencing homelessness, including, but not limited to, the right to use and move freely in public spaces, to rest in public spaces, to eat or accept food in any public space where food is not prohibited, and to have a reasonable expectation of privacy of one’s property.”

Last year, the bill was presented with optimistic expectations by its democratic co-sponsors, Rep. Jovan Melton, and Rep. Joe Salazar, who both felt that it would fare better than previous years’ versions of the bill. However, the Colorado Right to Rest Act did indeed die again in committee.

After the 2017 result, Rep Jovan Melton was particularly disappointed and stated that the bill had already been stripped down to its bare bones in an attempt to gain approval. Unfortunately even this did not help.

Again this year the bill was set to be introduced to the Capitol in a committee hearing. This will be the fourth year in a row that this bill has been introduced to the Capitol.

This year, the bill has faced some serious alterations and perhaps the biggest concession yet—that Cities like Denver, or Boulder, that have banned homeless people from camping outdoors may be eligible for exemptions that allow them to continue to enforce their camping ban if they meet other criteria.

As it stands, the Boulder City Council’s legislative agenda actually includes a formal opposition to the Right to Rest Act. Furthermore, there has not been a single municipality nor law enforcement agency in Colorado that has signed their support for the Right to Rest Act.

Opponents to the bill state that the bill threatens to undermine local control by legalizing undesirable behavior and they don’t believe the bill to be contributing in a powerful way to the issue of homelessness in Colorado.

When commenting on the Right to Rest Act, Mayor of Longmont, Brian Bagley said “I don’t know what impact the bill would have besides dissuading people from seeking permanent solutions to their own personal housing problems.”

Instead, Boulder County has focused on creating homeless services that de-prioritize emergency programming. The new system of homeless services, which was rolled out in October of 2017, focuses its resources and funding on creating exits from homelessness andoffers that to the homeless population instead.

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About the Author: Alex Fisher