BOULDER, Colo. (KDVR) — A lawsuit that challenges the enforcement of the City of Boulder’s camping ban against people experiencing homelessness is moving forward.  

The city ordinance makes it illegal to sleep outside in any public space made into a shelter using any cover or protection other than clothing. 

ACLU filed a lawsuit in 2022 alleging Boulder violated the state constitution when it enforces its camping ban against people experiencing homelessness who cannot access indoor shelter with no other alternative.  

The lawsuit has been stalled since Boulder filed a motion to dismiss, but a recent ruling by Boulder District Court Judge Robert Gunning denied the city’s motion, allowing the lawsuit to continue

Mark Silverstein, ACLU of Colorado legal director, said this is a groundbreaking ruling.  

“This is the first court in Colorado to recognize that state constitutional provisions may warrant an injunction about how a city polices its population of people who are houseless,” Silverstein said. 

Silverstein said they’re arguing the camping ban shouldn’t be enforced on those who cannot access a shelter due to overflow, a work conflict or other reasons. 

“Everyone has to sleep and so someone that doesn’t have a house, but still lives in Boulder, if they can’t access the indoor shelter, it makes no sense to label them a criminal because they’re forced to sleep outside,” Silverstein said. 

Ten years ago, Silverstein said the ACLU tried to take a case to the Colorado Supreme Court, but were one vote short. 

“Our client has put the choice of complying with the law and risking frostbite or breaking the law and risking a ticket under this ordinance. Turns out the morning he was ticketed there was actually frost on his sleeping bag,” Silverstein said. “We’re challenging the same ordinance but challenging the practice of enforcing it against people who are unable to access indoor shelters.” 

The City of Boulder declined FOX31’s request for an interview but did provide the following statement: 

I can confirm that we have received the court’s order, which dismisses part of the claim against the city. 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.  

City of Boulder

On the city’s website it states, “…removal of an unsanctioned campground is done as a last resort when the occupants are resistant to services and refuse to vacate.”  

But Silverstein said that hasn’t always been the case.  

“Boulder has been in the past, anyway, one of the most zealous enforcers of a camping ordinance. When we first challenged the ordinance 10 years ago, they were doing hundreds of citations a year,” Silverstein said. “It should be a last resort to enforce the criminal law on someone who is unable to access shelter.” 

The city has until March 10 to file a response.