Written by The Catalyst Editorial Staff
On April 9, the Pedestrian Access Act, formerly know as the Sit-Lie Ordinance, will go into effect in Colorado Springs. The act prohibits kneeling, sitting, reclining, lying down on sidewalks, trails, streets, alleys, and other public right-of-ways. This ordinance will disproportionately target and affect the homeless of Colorado Springs.
The Ordinance will criminalize the actions of Colorado Springs’ most vulnerable citizens. Many of the homeless people who will be directly affected suffer from mental illness, are addicts, or disabled veterans.
If found guilty of these actions, a written warning will be given out. After this, individuals who are charged face probation and a subsequent fine of $500, 90 days of jail, or both.
In response to the Act, The Coalition for Compassion and Action will be protesting in Acacia Park on Saturday, April 9 and specifically speaking out against Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who has stated that the majority of Colorado Springs citizens support the Act.
“I hear from people all the time who say, I don’t go downtown because I don’t want to walk through a maze of people lying on the ground,” said Suthers. “From my perspective, and I think from the perspective of the majority of the Council, and I would suggest the perspective of the vast majority of Colorado Springs, there’s a difference between dealing with the homeless problem and providing services for the homeless and telling everyone it is perfectly okay to sit and lie on our sidewalks.”
The Coalition plans to generate police citations through the protest. If at least 10 people from the protest are arrested for obstructing public right-of-way, the ACLU of Colorado will intervene in court and defend them on their behalf. The ACLU is in strong opposition of the Ordinance and believes that homeless people are being targeted, when in truth there is no public safety justification.
There is precedent across the country that these types of ordinances will not succeed legally or socially. Honolulu passed a similar Sit-Lie Ban, which in concept aimed to push the homeless into shelters instead of the busy streets. However, the homeless just migrated out of the city center and into different parts of the city.
Following this, Honolulu expanded the jurisdiction where the Ordinance can be enforced. However, the mayor of Honolulu is running into serious pushback since this expansion is explicitly targeting homeless people and is ineffective in addressing the problem. Homeless people are continuing to disperse into new areas and neighborhoods.
Proponents of the Ordinance argue that people loitering downtown have disrupted prospering businesses. It will remove groups of homeless people loitering outside of businesses, which typically deters customers.
Instead of focusing the cities money on enforcing the Ordinance, Colorado Springs should work to build more affordable housing and homeless shelters.
The Ordinance does not offer a solution to the homeless problem in Colorado Springs, it will just disperse the homeless population into other areas of the city where it is not in effect. Denver has implemented a housing initiative, Denver Housing First Collaborative, which has been effective in decreasing incarceration and emergency room and detox visits. Colorado Springs City Council should look to our northern neighbors for guidance on this issue.
On Saturday morning, protesters will be pitted against police officers through an act of civil disobedience.
This protest may generate news coverage in Colorado Springs and across the nation. In this potential media frenzy, it is important not to lose sight of the driving forces in City Council that have brought this confrontation to fruition. The elected officials of Colorado Springs have opted to address a systemic issue in our community with a surface-level solution. It is essential that the active voices of Colorado Springs continue to fight against this misguided ordinance and find a more permanent solution to the homelessness epidemic.