The legal process continues for the city of Fort Collins, the American Civil Liberties Union and Fort Collins Fellowship Church. At issue: should people experiencing homelessness be allowed to store their belongings in lockers on the property of the church?
Pastor Steve Ramer says this is a focus of the Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship.
“It’s not that we just woke up one day and decided, ‘let’s put some lockers outside of our building,’” he said. “It was originally generated partially as a response to what the city was doing to eliminate the homeless from Old Town.”
Some of these efforts from the city included a ban on sitting or sleeping too long. One thing homeless people told Pastor Ramer that would be helpful is a place to store belongings.
“Storage has always been a critical need for the homelessness,” said Ramer. “So often the issue is with many of the programs that you see throughout the country, it’s a limited access to their items.”
The Fort Collins Mennonite Fellowship was able to build the lockers and operated them for a few months. Druing that time, nearby residents did complain about activity from the homeless, including overnight camping nearby. Then the City Council repealed a decision by the Planning Board and made two requirements to operate the lockers. They required a staff member to be on-site when the lockers were in operation, and they prohibited 24-hour access.
Pastor Ramer said these requirements basically prevented the program from being able to operate, as the Church didn’t have the appropriate staff available.
“The stereotype often is that the folks who are homeless are not deserving of being treated fairly or equally, or the idea that somehow they’re going to use those lockers for nefarious things,” said Ramer.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Church have filed a lawsuit against the city of Fort Collins to
allow access to the lockers without restrictions. The program has since been shut down, although the lockers remain until the litigation process is over.
In an emailed response, City Attorney Carrie Daggett said, “The City is willing to discuss and consider settlement of this matter, if appropriate settlement terms can be negotiated.”
Daggett added, “In this process the City has focused on understanding and addressing the impacts of the proposed project in deciding whether to grant the Minor Amendment that was required for the Fellowship to operate its outdoor locker facility. That decision was made after considering opposing viewpoints and information presented by staff and by advocates for and opposed to the facility.”
Ramer says the ability to provide lockers for people experiencing homelessness is a pillar to his faith as a Christian.
“We are a part of a tradition, the Mennonites, that go back about 500 years,” he said. “We try to follow what Jesus said. And Jesus is clear on several points when it comes to caring for our neighbors, caring for the poor, those in prison, those who don’t have clothes.”