Talks about centralized homeless services in Fort Collins raise the question of just how much time homeless residents are currently spending on travel to access services. Fort Collins Coloradoan
The case of a Fort Collins homeless man ticketed for sleeping in the back of his truck at the Prospect Road rest area is headed to a higher court.
ACLU of Colorado took on the defense of 39-year-old Adam Wiemold after a Fort Collins police officer cited him for camping on public property at the designated rest area off Interstate 25 the morning of Sept. 11, 2018.
Wiemold, then a Catholic Charities employee, couldn’t sleep at either of Fort Collins’ primary homeless shelters that night because the Rescue Mission was full and Catholic Charities policy prohibits staff from receiving services at the shelter, according to the ACLU motion to dismiss.
“This night is emblematic of the general issue of insufficient shelter space for Fort Collins’ homeless population,” the motion read. “While there are more than 375 individuals experiencing long-term homelessness in Fort Collins, there are only 266 shelter beds in the city.”
ACLU presented evidence to Fort Collins Municipal Court in May in an effort to get Wiemold’s ticket dismissed, but a judge rejected the motion, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said.
ACLU filed a notice of appeal in October and will file the first brief in district court once a municipal court transcript is completed.
Eighth Judicial District Judge Julie Field is presiding over the case in district court. If she rules in Wiemold’s favor, Fort Collins could be forced to dismiss the ticket or alter the way it enforces its camping ban — unless the city files its own appeal.
The backbone of ACLU’s argument is a 2018 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said it’s unconstitutional to prosecute someone for sleeping outside if the person has no choice. The court ruled that enforcing a ban on sleeping outside violates the 8th Amendment prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
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ACLU also argued Fort Collins police selectively enforced the camping ban because truck drivers sleeping at the rest area weren’t ticketed.
“The behaviors were the same, sleeping in the vehicle, but the truckers didn’t get tickets because they’re not the homeless people that the police see as the targets of the ordinance,” Silverstein said.
Fort Collins City Attorney Carrie Daggett declined to comment on the case. In the city’s response to ACLU’s earlier motion to dismiss Wiemold’s camping charge, attorneys argued the camping ordinance is constitutional because it punishes conduct rather than status. They refuted the notion that Wiemold had no choice but to car-camp in Fort Collins, arguing he could’ve driven outside city limits or stayed at a homeless shelter in Loveland. They also argued Wiemold’s situation was voluntary because he chose to take the job at the shelter and stated he was sleeping in his car to get out of debt.
“The defendant asks the court to ‘pay no attention to the man behind the curtain’ and shut its eyes to the actual individual facts relating to the defendant’s decision to camp,” the response read.
Fort Collins city code states that people can’t sleep in public places that are not designated for camping, such as specific recreation areas, or on private properties except temporarily with permission of the owner. Violating that section of city code is considered a criminal misdemeanor, the city attorney’s office previously told the Coloradoan.
The city’s camping ordinance prohibits camping or pitching a tent on public property, although it doesn’t specifically mention vehicles.
The Fort Collins Community Action Network previously reported that the city issued 257 citations in 2016 and 413 in 2017 for camping ban violations. Between January and June 2019, police issued 84 camping tickets, according to information provided to the Coloradoan.
Another section of city code related to towing and storage states that any vehicle is considered abandoned if it’s left unattended on public property, including streets, for more than two days. Citing that code, police issued abandoned vehicle notices to 11 vehicles parked along Linden Center Drive in June.
Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke.
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