Denver Post – Six Colorado cities spent a combined $5 million to arrest, prosecute and jail the homeless from 2010 to 2014.
Denver spent more than $750,000 enforcing ordinances that target homelessness in 2014, a high price tag that has done little to alleviate a problem so apparent on city streets, a new report concludes.
The report by law students at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law examines the social and economic effect of laws that criminalize acts such as lying down or camping in public spaces throughout the state.
“Because people who don’t have homes have to live outside in public, they are targeted by these ordinances that criminalize these everyday activities,” said Nantiya Ruan, law professor at DU’s Sturm College who supervised the students.
“They can’t pay for the citations, and they are put into the criminal justice system.”
In January 2015, the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative conducted an annual survey that found 6,130 homeless men, women and children in Denver and the surrounding six counties.
The DU report to be released Tuesday, “Too High A Price: What Criminalizing Homelessness Costs Colorado,” looked at the cost of policing, court action and incarceration brought on by ordinances in cities throughout the state.
The municipal codes of 76 of the state’s largest cities contain a total of 351 ordinances that disproportionately target the homeless, the report found.
Denver’s enforcement costs are the highest.
But in some cases, the city is more lenient than Boulder, which has a reputation for progressive policies, Ruan said.
“It is shocking, because Boulder gave out 1,767 citations in that five-year period, just under their camping ban, and they only have 440 homeless.”
During the same period, 2010 through 2014, Denver police issued only 15 citations for violation of a camping ban, she added. “They are moving people on without citing them.”
The report underestimates the total spent in some cases, Ruan said. For example, although Denver has 11 ordinances on the books that she said disproportionately target the homeless, the $750,000 spent in 2014 was linked to only five of them.
Six cities — Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Durango, Fort Collins and Grand Junction — spent a combined $5 million from 2010 through 2014, the report said.
Those cities responded to open records requests, providing data on the number of citations given, Ruan said.
Denver was the only municipality that provided a number for each citation that could be used to track whether the recipient had to spend time in jail, Ruan said.
Using Denver’s data, the researchers extrapolated costs for other cities using the number of citations given, and the local cost of a 24- hour jail stay, Ruan said.
While the cost of a stay in Denver’s lockup is $53 per day, Ruan said, 24 hours in a Boulder jail costs the city $110 per day.
Alexxa Gagner, director of public relations for the Denver Rescue Mission, said seeking shelter is the safest option for those without a roof over their heads, but they shouldn’t be criminalized for being homeless.
“People come under unfortunate circumstances every day,” Gagner said. “Just because someone is going through a rough patch, or maybe a long rough patch, they shouldn’t be criminalized.”
A bill introduced in the state House this month would create a bill of rights for homeless people. The Right to Rest Act, which the House Local Government Committee will discuss Feb. 24, would allow the homeless to sleep in automobiles, parks or other public spaces.
Similar legislation died in committee last year.
Denver officials have recently introduced measures intended to alleviate the problem.
The city plans to launch a $150 million, 10-year affordable housing initiative that will boost city subsidies available for housing projects serving a wide spectrum of homeless residents.
City Council members voted in January to create a new committee aimed at examining solutions to homelessness, as well as ways to pay for them.
The City Council also approved a pair of contracts for a new, privately funded supportive housing program meant to help 250 of the city’s chronically homeless people.