Release Date: 10/20/2021 

CPHA and DASHR stand against violent policies in Colorado 

DENVER, CO -- In 2020 and 2021, the Colorado Public Health Association (CPHA) and Denver Alliance for Street Health Response (DASHR) collaborated several times to identify and mobilize a public health approach to public safety reforms. One result of the collaboration identified the harms associated with criminalizing homelessness and resources wasted in enforcing such policies. CPHA and DASHR declare that access to affordable, safe, and secure housing and the eradication of the systemic pathways to homelessness are public health issues. As communities around the state consider policies impacting homelessness, it is vital to elevate both upstream services and supports that address basic needs and root causes of homelessness, as well as immediate best practice policies that can provide meaningful long-term housing solutions for communities from a public health perspective. This issue is becoming even more urgent with evictions and increased homelessness looming as a result of the COVID pandemic. 

Criminalizing homelessness ignores the root causes of homelessness. The National Inter-Agency Council on Homelessness (2012), the U.S. Department of Justice (2012), and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (2016) have all argued that laws targeting individuals experiencing homelessness - such as “camping bans”, or prohibitions on sleeping, sitting, or using any kind of shelter from the elements - are cruel and counterproductive to the goals of reducing street living among people experiencing homelessness and improving their quality of life. Colorado evidence indicates the harmful impact of these policies on mental health, higher rates of physical and sexual assault, frostbite, heatstroke, and dehydration. 

The American Public Health Association (2018) has also called upon federal, state, and local agencies to adopt alternative solutions rather than criminalizing homelessness, as punitive measures “are not only ineffective in reducing homelessness and costly to enforce but serve as a barrier to income and housing stability.” This is why, from a collective public health perspective, the CPHA and DASHR firmly oppose policies that criminalize homelessness and demand immediate repeal of such policies across the state of Colorado. 

While Denver is a major focus for these problems, the issues of concern are not isolated to Denver. Colorado’s 76 largest cities have 351 anti-homeless ordinances. Some of these policies include consequences of up to $2,500 and 6 months in jail. Proponents of such policies have touted public health concerns as justification for passing and enforcing inhumane and misinformed policies, therefore we disagree with and denounce the use of the public health platform to condone policies and processes that do not work to adequately solve the problem of homelessness or address causal root factors. 

Urgent Call to Action 

With an increase in economic insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we can anticipate a consequential increase in homelessness and poverty. Instead of blaming those who are impacted, we should center their experiences, consult with experts, bolster trauma-informed supportive services, and advocate for secure housing and economic opportunities. Complex social problems require sophisticated, cross-sector solutions, and evidenced-based strategies. 

The Colorado Public Health Association and Denver Alliance for Street Health Response declare homelessness a public health crisis and call for an end to efforts that are making this crisis worse, especially those that criminalize homelessness and punish people for their acts of survival.