CO Adds Homeless to Hate-crime Law

January 8, 2011

Lynn Bartels, Denver Post Staff Writer


Sen. Angela Giron listens to testimony in Senate Committee Room 356 on SB11-004 about crimes against the homeless in Colorado.

The homeless and the people who care for them successfully implored lawmakers today to add homelessness as a category to Colorado’s hate-crime laws.

“Hunting season for the homeless is a year-round event,” said Vernon Lewis, a 38-year-old man who is homeless.

The bill sponsor, Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, said Colorado ranks fifth in the nation for the number of crimes against the homeless during a 10-year period.

“Personally I think it’s a civil rights issue,” said Guzman, a minister.

After an emotional hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 in favor of the measure. It now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.

Critics raised several concerns about Senate Bill 4, saying the definition of homeless is so vague it includes “couch surfers,” the bill means more prison time for offenders and it could have an impact on homeless-on-homeless crime.

Both the Colorado District Attorney’s Council and the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar opposed the measure.

Currently under Colorado law, an individual can be charged with a bias-motivated crime if the crime was done because of the person’s race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation.

“These are traits people are born into,” said Tamar Wilson, with the district attorney’s council. “Homelessness is a situation, making that person vulnerable.”

Tears flowed during the hearing.

Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, who said she has been close to being homeless before, broke down several times. Chris Conner, an outreach case manager for Urban Peak, which helps homeless youths, momentarily was unable to continue when describing attacks on kids.

Even a bill opponent, Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, sobbed when she testified against the measure. She said she felt bad opposing a measure that so many of her friends support.

But the majority of witnesses supported the measure.

Lisa Raville, executive director of the Harm Reducation Action Center, which provides education for injection drug users and their sexual partners, said the center’s homeless clients are at risk.

“They come to me beaten and bruised and angry,” she said.

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