A man, who said his name was Tom, sleeps in a flower bed as pedestrians walk along Tejon Street in downtown Colorado Springs Friday, May 3, 2013, at the corner of Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
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A man, who said his name was Tom, sleeps in a flower bed as pedestrians walk along Tejon Street in downtown Colorado Springs Friday, May 3, 2013, at the corner of Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

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At least 100 of 187 major U.S. cities have "sit-lie" ordinances similar to the one proposed by the Colorado Springs City Council, a national study shows.

Whether they're effective depends on how they're written and executed and whom you ask. But they're most assuredly expensive. 

Denver's law, enacted in 2005, forbids obstructing public rights-of-way in the downtown business district. The city also enacted a ban on urban camping in 2012.

Fort Collins rejected a sit-lie law last week, deciding instead to organize an outreach program to find and assist homeless people. Also that day, Aug. 25, nearby Windsor voted down a sit-lie law.

Aurora, meanwhile, has a strict law that bans lying in the Colfax Corridor, even on benches, stools, chairs or other seats.

Seattle was the first major U.S. city to enact such a law for its downtown, in 1993. Enforcement hasn't been intensive. Seattle police issued 57 citations in 2009 and 77 in 2008, reported SF Gate.

San Francisco voters enacted a citywide sit-lie ban in 2010. But two years later, police were doling out six times more tickets on Haight Street than anywhere else in the city - and more than half of those went to the same four aging, homeless offenders, said a report by City Hall Fellows, a group that empowers and mobilizes young people to address urban social issues.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell vetoed a City Council effort to expand the sit-lie laws there in May outside of commercial areas. The council overrode his veto two weeks later, and the mayor signed the expansion into law.

In June, a University of Hawaii study found that police sweeps under the law disrupted homeless people, with 57 percent of those surveyed saying their identification documents were confiscated and only 16 percent able to retrieve them. The retrieval fee is $200.

In Houston, people not only can't sit or lie on a sidewalk between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., but also can't set down their possessions on a sidewalk.

Another Houston law contains a $2,000 fine for anyone who shares food with five or more needy people in public unless they obtained written permission from the property owner.

Enforcement of such laws usually comes at a high price.

Cities in Osceola County, Florida, spent more than $5 million since 2004 to repeatedly jail 37 homeless people for offenses such as public sleeping or panhandling, Impact Homelessness found.

The people were collectively arrested 1,250 times between 2004 and 2013 at a cost of $104 per booking, spending 61,896 days behind bars at an average cost of $80 per day, Think Progress reported last year.

Each cost $15,000 a year to jail. By contrast, for $9,602 a year, a homeless person can be placed in a permanent supportive housing unit in the county, complete with a case manager, the group found.

A report by the Orlando Sentinel last year found that a chronically homeless person in central Florida costs the community about $31,000 a year - including police salaries to arrest people for offenses such as trespassing, public intoxication or public sleeping, as well as jail stays, emergency-room visits and hospitalizations.

For $10,000 a year, each could be given permanent housing and supervising case managers.

A study in Charlotte, N.C., found that 85 once-homeless adults housed in Moore Place saved $1.8 million in health care costs, with 447 fewer emergency room visits (a 78 percent reduction) and 372 fewer days in the hospital (a 79 percent reduction), Huffington Post reported.

Their 78 percent drop in arrests led to 84 percent fewer days in jail, largely because they were no longer homeless.

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has found similar results.

During two years in its Housing First program, 24 once-homeless people used 73 percent less emergency care, saving nearly $600,000, the coalition reported.

The expense of such laws was detailed in the national study of 187 major cities, "No Safe Place" (http://bit.ly/1nArPXD) by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and The National Coalition for the Homeless.

The study found that the expensive "criminalization" of people without homes does not reduce homelessness, but cities and counties can invest in more affordable housing, among other measures.

The report also cites a solution for a problem that vexes Colorado Springs: The downtown library has become a haven for homeless people.

The San Francisco Public Library hired a full-time social worker who develops relationships with homeless patrons and helps them get stable housing, the report says. Similar programs since have been launched in Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Calif., and Washington, D.C.


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