Defining ‘Criminalization of Homelessness’
As I find myself agreeing with the term ‘Criminalization of Homelessness,’ I wanted to explain the term, given that an LTE in the previous issue of Boulder Weekly had questioned it. The Boulder camping ban ordinance specifically states that it is illegal to use “any cover or protection from the elements other than clothing” on any city property. This specific iteration of the camping ban was enacted by the City Council last year, so it is possible that someone who was a homeless camper before then did not experience this sort of criminalization. And, to be clear, this is something that targets the homeless. Not explicitly, but it is clear that people who do not actually have housing are more likely to have to camp on public property. If you are homeless, your choices as I understand them are: to be in a shelter (if they have space, which isn’t always the case); or, if that has been rejected for any number of valid reasons, to live on public property, that is, to camp. Of course, Boulder has implemented a successful housing-first approach to deal with homelessness, but the system takes time to work, and people always need to exist somewhere.
Now, we as a community of Boulderites should reconsider whether it is a good idea to criminalize homelessness in this manner. What do we hope to achieve? If it is to reduce homelessness, then the data suggests camping bans are not helpful here. Outreach and encouragement to use support services are definitely needed, but I don’t think life as a camper is comfortable enough to necessitate the use of punishment as a disincentive. If, however, as I suspect, the goal is to suppress the constant reminder of the inequality of our society, then camping bans make sense after all. I encourage the reader to weigh these priorities.
The large wildfires we’ve been experiencing in Colorado and across the West— threatening our homes and risking the lives of residents and firefighters—are the result of high temperatures and drought made worse by climate change, coinciding with high winds. And the two most important actions we can take in response are to: 1. Make homes “Firewise.” 2. Preserve our carbon-storing forests.
Appallingly, Sen. Bennet, Sen. Hickenlooper, and Rep. Joe Neguse are spending $3.3 billion in taxpayer dollars (under the 2021 infrastructure bill) that could fund Firewise programs to instead cut down our National Forests under the guise of “wildfire risk reduction.”
A quick glance at any number of studies shows that logging forests cannot prevent the large fires that menace our communities—again, the byproduct of hot temperatures, dry conditions, and high winds. To the contrary, logging can actually dry out forests by opening stands to sunlight and wind, and even spread flames faster. Yet right now, 3.5 million acres of your Front Range public lands are on the chopping block under this fraudulent scheme that degrades natural ecosystems, worsens climate change, and provides a false sense of security that endangers the homes and lives of Coloradans.
If you value human life and the natural world, please contact your Congressional delegation and demand that they stop wasting your taxes on logging our living climate buffers and instead put every dollar into making our communities Firewise.