The House Veterans and Military Affairs Committee disappointed homeless advocates this week when it voted not to pass along a bill that could have negated laws that prevent homeless individuals from sitting on the sidewalk and sleeping in public places. The Right to Rest bill had been introduced in April, and was supposed to be the first step toward a full homeless bill of rights in Colorado. Although this step failed, Denver Homeless Out Loud, which helped author the bill, plans to keep fighting for homeless rights.
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"This is only the beginning. We are continuing this fight for our rights to survive as long as they continue to squash those rights," says Terese Howard of DHOL. "We will be out on the streets gathering information, gathering all who are effected by this criminalization, and preparing the Colorado Right to Rest Act for the 2016 state legislation." DHOL had released a report last month documenting homeless individuals' experience on the street and with law enforcement, which accuses the state of criminalizing homelessness.
The bill, sponsored by representatives Jovan E. Melton and Joe Salazar, was written with the help of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, which has been advocating for a homeless bill of rights in a number of states. As defined by the National Coalition for the Homeless, these bills prohibit segregation due to lack of housing and protect the rights of homeless individuals to vote and have access to public spaces and services, including education for children and legal counsel. At least thirteen cities and states are considering a homeless bill of rights or related proposals; although Colorado's attempt failed, other proposals are progressing.