Colorado Springs expands area where it’s illegal to sit or lie in public right of way, sparking outcry from advocates for homeless

Bryan Oller for KRCC
Shoppers walk down Tejon Street in downtown Colorado Springs on Black Friday.

In a move strongly opposed by homeless advocates, the Colorado Springs City Council voted Tuesday to increase the size of a downtown district where it's illegal to sit or lie down in public rights of way.

The city first approved the ban in 2016, which prohibits people “sit, kneel, recline or lie down” during peak hours in the downtown’s core and in the Old Colorado City commercial district. Tuesday’s expansion of that area is intended to include a rapidly developing region at the edge of downtown, which the city now calls the Central Commercial District. 

Local businesses and the city's downtown partnership say the change is needed to ensure greater pedestrian safety in these areas. In a December letter to the city, Downtown Partnership President and CEO Susan Edmondson argued the boundaries of the ban should be expanded even farther than what was ultimately approved by the council.  

“Downtown continues to provide more public seating than anywhere else in the city, as well as the opportunity for people to rest in our urban parks,” Edmondson said in the letter. “We continue our commitment to public seating options so that no one needs to sit or lie in a manner blocking public passage.”

The ordinance has long been a controversial subject among residents, and consideration of the expansion got a host of public comments Tuesday from those describing the new rule as further criminalizing homelessness downtown. 

“We can not warn, cite, fine and incarcerate this issue away,” said Yolanda Avila, one of two Colorado Springs City Council members to vote against expansion of the ordinance.  “This is not a solution to what’s happening with the unhoused. It’s not a solution in clearing the downtown area equitably.”  

Councilmember Bill Murray, who supported the expansion, argued that when people experiencing homelessness are affected by the sit-lie ban, it could provide opportunity for them to learn about community resources such as the Springs Rescue Mission.

"We allow them to move to areas that have been designated to provide support services [on] their behalf," Murray said.

The ordinance is in effect between the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.  daily. On Friday and Saturday nights, the ordinance extends from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m.