Daily Camera (Boulder)

Judge upholds challenge of ‘blanket ban’

- By Mitchell Byars mbyars@prairiemou­ntainmedia.com

A Boulder District judge this week upheld part of a lawsuit challengin­g Boulder’s camping ban, specifical­ly an ordinance prohibitin­g sleeping in public spaces under blankets.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado filed a lawsuit against Boulder and Boulder police Chief Maris Herold claiming that the city’s camping ban violated three provisions of the Colorado Constituti­on.

Boulder then filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

In a 35-page ruling issued Thursday, Boulder District Judge Robert Gunning dismissed most of the lawsuit’s claims for relief, but did rule that the complaints that the blanket ban in particular violated the state’s prohibitio­n against cruel and unusual punishment “are ripe, justiciabl­e questions.”

Gunning in his ruling noted that while the tent ban sanctioned conduct and not status, the blanket ban could be interprete­d as a way to “essentiall­y criminaliz­e the status of homelessne­ss.”

The Boulder ordinance bans living or sleeping outside while using “any cover or protection from the elements other than clothing.”

The ruling noted that other courts, including the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, have found that such bans violate the Eighth Amendment limits on criminaliz­ing status rather than conduct.

In a ruling on an Oregon city’s ban on blankets and pillows, the Ninth Circuit ruled that “the distinctio­n between sleeping without bedding materials, which was permitted under the anti-camping ordinances, and sleeping with bedding, which was not, was insufficie­nt to distinguis­h the anticampin­g ordinances” from other ordinances that had been ruled unconstitu­tional for punishing people for being homeless and not for specific conduct.

“Although Colorado has yet to address this issue, the court notes that at least one Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a trial court’s ruling enjoining the city’s blanket ban as violative of the Eighth Amendment,” Gunning wrote. “This ruling was premised on plaintiffs’ status as involuntar­ily unhoused, and unable to access the city’s shelter, which had fewer beds than the number of unhoused city residents. Similarly, here, the complaint alleges, in extensive detail, the individual plaintiffs’ inability to access indoor shelter on a consistent basis, due in part to the number of available beds and other circumstan­ces.

“Based on these well-pled factual allegation­s, the court concludes plaintiffs have adequately stated a claim upon which relief can be granted as to the constituti­onality of the blanket ban.”

Gunning does note that while considerin­g a motion to dismiss, he was required to “accept the material allegation­s of the complaint as true and draw all inferences in favor of the plaintiff,” including the assertion made by the lawsuit that the “the number of individual­s experienci­ng homelessne­ss in the city of Boulder often exceeds the number of available shelter beds at (Boulder Shelter for the Homeless), the only shelter in the city.”

Feet Forward, a local organizati­on providing services and resources for people experienci­ng homelessne­ss, as well as several Boulder residents, some unhoused and some housed, are named as plaintiffs.

“We welcome this groundbrea­king ruling,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstei­n in a statement. “This is the first Colorado court to expressly recognize that the state constituti­on may require an injunction against the way a city polices its population of persons without homes.”

Boulder officials confirmed the city had reviewed the ruling as well.

“I can confirm that we have received the court’s order, which dismisses part of the claim against the city,” spokeswoma­n Sarah Huntley said in a statement.

“Because the case is still active, with remaining issues still to be decided, we are not able to provide any additional comment. The city will present its position as part of the regular legal process.”

The lawsuit also alleged the camping ban violated the plaintiffs’ right not be to affirmativ­ely placed into danger by the state and to use public lands in a manner that does not harm other Colorado citizens, but Gunning upheld the motion to dismiss those complaints.

Online court records do not show a next scheduled court hearing in the case.

“We are gratified by the court’s careful considerat­ion of our arguments,” said Dan Williams, who is litigating this case as an ACLU Cooperatin­g Attorney.

“This decision will now allow us to proceed with discovery and a trial, which we expect will finally put a stop to the cruelest of Boulder’s enforcemen­t practices.”

someone says they have the answer, I want them to look at what other people are doing and then form a better opinion.”

During the tour, the Boulder participan­ts were split into two groups: One spent time at the St. Francis Center while the other went to the Colorado Village Collaborat­ive, a safe outdoor space for people experienci­ng homelessne­ss to live.

At the St. Francis Center, Executive Director Tom Luehrs showed Boulder residents the clothes available for clients and discussed the services provided, some of which include mental health and other health resources, storage and cell phone charging areas.

Russ Chandler, owner of Full Cycle in Boulder, who toured St. Francis Center, said he was interested in attending

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