Three homeless Boulder residents, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, are suing the city of Boulder over its camping and tent bans. Several letters sent by the ACLU asking the city to stop enforcing the laws were answered with no changes, prompting the organization to sue the city Thursday.
“The city has shown us that we can’t stop this without a lawsuit,” said Annie Kurtz, ACLU attorney and associate of Equal Justice Works.
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The lawsuit alleges three alleged violations of the constitution: cruel and unusual punishment, prohibition of state-caused danger and freedom to use public roads, freedom to travel and freedom of residence. The plaintiffs include nonprofit Feet Forward, a homelessness nonprofit, Feet Forward executive director Jennifer Livovich, and Lisa Sweeney-Miran, vice president of the Boulder Valley School District board of directors. The plaintiffs also include three unaccommodated residents, Jennifer Shurley, Jordan Whitten and Shawn Rhoades.
Camping bans have been in place in the city of Boulder for years. But in the summer of 2021, the city expanded the camping ban, which prohibited unaccommodated residents from protecting themselves with anything other than the clothing they wear. The ban includes tents, blankets and cars. At the same time, the number of beds in shelters has drastically decreased, and more homeless people are being turned away from shelters, according to the lawsuit.
Since August 2021, 250 unhoused residents have been turned away from Boulder’s accommodation. In almost a third of these cases, the shelter was at capacity. In 2020, five people died from hypothermia, Kurtz said. Last Friday when a winter storm warning was in effect, seven people were turned away from Boulder’s shelter because it was full.
When the city expanded its camping ban in August 2021, it included a six-month residency requirement to use the Boulder property. According to the request, data about the city website shows that more people were turned away. The residency requirement has since been lifted.
“The goal of the lawsuit is to get the city to stop enforcing these laws if they only punish people for being homeless and endangering their lives,” Kurtz said.
According to Kurtz, the city of Boulder allocated $2.7 million last year to help enforce these bans. However, the city has declined to use the funds to create additional options for people without housing, such as B. sanctioned camps, secure parking and additional emergency shelters. The current shelter can fill 160 beds, up from twice that many, Kurtz said.
“The city has taken virtually every opportunity to reduce people’s chances of survival in recent years, but has increased punishment for outdoor survival,” she said.
The city has until June 16 to respond to the lawsuit. There is no hearing date yet.