The decision last December that ruled Denver’s urban camping ban unconstitutional has been reversed.
Denver’s urban camping ban outlaws eating, sleeping or storing belongings on public property without permission and applies to anyone using any kind of shelter — even a blanket — other than clothing. Advocates say it criminalizes being homeless, while proponents of the rules say it helps steer people into shelter and social services.
Denver voters overwhelmingly refused to repeal the ban last May in a vote 145,649 to 33,685. Still, Denver County Court Judge Johnny Barajas struck down the ban late last year under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment,” along with the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, due process clause and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The ruling against the city’s prohibition threw the city’s rule into doubt, after a U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco struck down a similar ban in Boise, Idaho, in 2018.
The Denver City Attorney’s Office appealed to District Court in mid-January, and the new ruling came down last week from Judge J. Eric Elliff of the 2nd Judicial District in Denver.
Elliff argues the trial court erred in its ruling and is requiring a new trial be held for the plaintiff in the case, Jerry Burton, who challenged the ban after being ticketed in late April when he set up camp near 29th Street and Arkins Court close to the North Platte River. His claim sparked a series of hearings, which began last October.
Elliff wrote that Burton was “offered shelter and refused it,” which guided his decision as he considered the Idaho case, which had ruled that Boise couldn’t prevent camping if adequate shelter was inaccessible.
A spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office expressed support Tuesday of Elliff’s ruling.
“The City very intentionally drafted its Unauthorized Camping Ordinance (UCO) to recognize the needs of all Denver residents and the special circumstances of those experiencing homelessness,” spokesman Ryan Luby said in a statement. “We have implemented a humane and compassionate approach to enforcement. Our priority [is] get resources and shelter to those who need it. Judge Elliff’s Colorado District Court appellate ruling last week confirmed that Denver’s UCO is indeed constitutional.”
Burton, who is a member of Denver Homeless Out Loud, plans to appeal his case to the Colorado Supreme Court, Denverite reports.
There are more than 4,100 people experiencing homelessness in Denver, according to the latest Point-in-Time survey.
A copy of the ruling is below: