DENVER — In a detailed 35-page ruling Boulder district court judge Robert Gunning concluded that ACLU lawyers had adequately alleged that Boulder violates the state constitution when it enforces its “camping” ban against persons experiencing homelessness who cannot access indoor shelter. The ordinance forbids living or sleeping outside while using “any cover or protection from the elements other than clothing.” The court denied Boulder’s motion to dismiss the ACLU’s claim that the city and chief of police enforce the ordinance against unhoused residents in a manner that violates the state constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The ACLU’s clients include housed and unhoused Boulder residents as well as Feet Forward, a nonprofit that provides support and services to people experiencing homelessness. The ACLU’s lawsuit, filed in state district court last May, has been stalled while the court considered Boulder’s motion to dismiss.
“We welcome this groundbreaking ruling,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado Legal Director. “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.”
“Today’s ruling vindicates the dignity, humanity, and basic rights of the unhoused residents of Boulder,” added Annie Kurtz, ACLU of Colorado Staff Attorney.
The court relied on plaintiffs’ allegations that Boulder’s indoor shelter space is far too limited to accommodate the number of people on the streets. It also noted that “program rules, restrictions, and structural realities exclude many unhoused residents from accessing the limited shelter that exists.”
“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.”
In addition to Silverstein, Kurtz and Williams, the litigation team includes ACLU of Colorado Cooperating Attorneys Andy McNulty and Meghan Hungate. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Boulder nonprofit Feet Forward, its founder and executive director, Jennifer Livovich, and three unhoused Boulder residents.