Update 1/20/2010: In response to this petition and protesting by on-the-ground activists in Boulder, Mayor Susan Osborne and the City Council last night directed the city manager to prepare an emergency ordinance suspending enforcement of the camping ticket regulation.
Update 1/26/2010: Mayor Osborne is backsliding on her promise to review a moratorium on camping tickets, saying she felt "boxed in" by petitioners and protestors. Read the open letter to the mayor and keep the pressure on!
Update 2/3/2010: Unfortunately, the mayor and city council of Boulder decided not to institute a moratorium. Activists on the ground are not giving up. You please don't either.
Update 6/28/2010: The ACLU has filed suit against Boulder on behalf of a homeless man who turned away from the local shelter and them ticketed for using a sleeping bag in 11 degree weather. The end of this unfair ordinance could be near — with your continued support.
Normally a leader in progressive social policies, the city of Boulder now enforces a law both unconstitutional and ineffective that fines the homeless for camping. Though the number of homeless in the region far exceeds available shelter beds, the city insists that fining its unsheltered citizens is the most effective way to promote health and safety.
Tell Mayor Susan Osborne to enact a moratorium on this unjust ordinance now.
The numbers speak for themselves. As of August of 2009, the city had issued 1,583 camping tickets in the last 4 years. Only 149 of these tickets have been paid. To repeat, less than 10% of all tickets given were paid. But, and this is where it gets interesting, violators of this law spent a total of 1,516 nights in jail because they simply couldn't pay the fine. Is the point of this law really to promote health and safety in the city, as officials have said, or is it to hide the homeless in the local jail?
Join the local and national coalition of activists, the homeless and passionate allies to create a new and better law. It's not enough for the leadership of Boulder to claim they support the needs of their most vulnerable citizens. Now is the time for Mayor Osborne and the City Council to lead by action and make meaningful change for the better. Tell them to enact an immediate moratorium against the camping law to end criminalization of homelessness in Boulder.
We respectfully ask that you suspend enforcement of this unjust ordinance now.
This law doesn't work for anyone. The numbers speak for themselves. As of August of 2009, the city issued 1,583 camping tickets in the last 4 years. Only 149 of these tickets have been paid. To repeat, less than 9% of all tickets given were paid. But, and this is where it gets interesting, violators of this law spent a total of1,516 taxpayer-provided nights in jail because they simply couldn't pay the fine. Is the point of this law really to promote health and safety in the city, as officials have said, or is it to hide the homeless in the local jail? I can't believe that's the case.
But it looks that way.
A mayor at work for Forbes' Smartest City should be able to lead on policy that works for the city, its citizens, and its most vulnerable in a way that promotes the greatest dignity for all involved. The present camping ordinance does not work, it's not dignified and it drains city funds. It's not smart.
With the enforcement of this ordinance, Boulder joins a list of cities like Los Angeles, St. Petersburg and Atlanta that have attempted to repress the visibility of homelessness by forcing them to the invisible margins. Officials in Boulder and other cities should know that laws like these have proven unconstitutional and ineffective time and again.
To use an example from Miami, a federal court struck down a city ordinance nearly identical to Boulder's holding that "[Miami's] practice of arresting homeless individuals for performing essential, life-sustaining acts in public" violated the homeless plaintiffs' rights to travel, and due process under the 14th Amendment, and right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eight Amendment. Add to this the unconstitutionality of singling out any one group for punishment (No one but the homeless would want to camp under a bush in the cold) and Boulder is asking for a legal fight they'll lose.
Instead, allow camping safe zones. This would dispense with the tiresome debate over tent cities and provide for a safe, healthy alternative. These safe zones, as Boulder's Homeless Ordinance Moratorium Endeavor suggests, could be in church and city parking lots and would undoubtedly be more easily regulated than a diffuse and vulnerable homeless population. This has become especially important as the number of homeless families increases exponentially. More than ever, we need laws that actually help people. Those that do choose to camp outside these safe zones could still be ticketed and given alternative sentences like mandatory vocational rehabilitation rather than pointless and expensive jail time.
The truth is, anything would work better than this ordinance. Please join a local and national coalition of concerned Boulder families, activists, homeless, and passionate allies who need your influential support to change a law that doesn't work. Champion the cause for human rights and dignity in Boulder.
1. Suspend enforcement of Ordinance No. 7129, which forbids "camp[ing] within any park, parkway, recreation, open space, or other public or private property."
2. Begin immediate public dialogue with grassroots organizations like the Homeless Ordinance Moratorium Endeavor (HOME) that recommend constructive alteration of the current ordinance.