Denver’s camping ban is back — at least for now — as tents proliferate in increasingly visible places downtown

Denver’s city attorney says police can resume enforcing the urban camping ban starting…well, they haven’t figured out an exact date yet.
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A tent encampment in Denver’s Civic Center Park in front of the Colorado Supreme Court building on Friday Jan. 10, 2020.
(Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

Denver's city attorney has determined police can resume enforcing the urban camping ban pending an appeal of a judge's ruling that implemented the measure is unconstitutional.

Denver County Judge Johnny Barajas ruled Dec. 27 that because of evidence demonstrating that Denver's shelters are inadequate, the ban violates constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The ban, adopted by City Council in 2012, outlaws on public property such activities as eating, sleeping or storing belongings while sheltering with tents, tarps or blankets.

The day Barajas made his ruling, Denver police announced they would no longer enforce the ban pending clarification from the city attorney. Ryan Luby, spokesman for the City Attorney's Office, said Monday that suspending enforcement was a step taken out of "an abundance of caution." He said the city read the judge's ruling narrowly and had now decided to resume enforcement of the ban.

Luby said enforcement would resume sometime this week. He said the day depended on "a number of different factors that we're still trying to sort out." He would not elaborate.

Since the judge's ruling was announced, the number of tents erected by people experiencing homelessness appears to have increased in places such as Civic Center Park.

In his ruling, Barajas cited testimony that among those with "limited access to adequate shelter" are individuals with serious mental illness and unaccompanied young people. Barajas added that workers on shifts needed a police escort to secure a bed "because of shelter curfews."

The city had argued during four days of hearings held over two and a half weeks before Barajas late last year that its shelters served emergency needs. Outside court, the city has embarked on a project to revamp shelters to make them accessible to more people and to better support people trying to secure permanent housing.

The case in which Barajas made his constitutional arose from a ticket under the ban issued to Jerry Burton, a homelessness activist who has lived on and off the streets of Denver for decades. Burton had insisted on being issued a ticket, a step police rarely take, in order to challenge the ban. Burton is a member of Denver Homeless Out Loud, an advocacy group that tried and failed to persuade Denver voters to overturn the camping ban last year.

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