Judge rules Denver’s rule to ban overnight camping unconstitutional

In a move that could profoundly affect public safety across Colorado, a state judge ruled on Thursday that Denver’s ordinance prohibiting overnight camping is unconstitutional.

Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold tweeted that Judge Ronald Del Duca had granted a preliminary injunction to Denver’s Home Rule Charter Amendment, which prohibited people from camping without a permit. The amendment “prevents the city of Denver from enacting and enforcing laws that maintain, establish, maintain, regulate, regulate, or permit,” the ordinance, the judge wrote. The judge ordered the city to change the law within 10 days. The court also asked the city to include a clause in its statutes requiring any permit request to be approved by at least five people.

Lawyers for the homeless told reporters that they believe the new guidelines will accommodate their clients. Jourdan Machado, the campaign coordinator for the group Homeless Denver, told The Denver Post that he believes the ruling “recognizes the need for larger dialogue with stakeholders, and I hope it begins today.” On the other hand, the judge in his ruling stated that one of the arguments leading up to the city’s decision to enact the ban was that people don’t want to “occupy the streets overnight,” a notion he doesn’t think is a valid basis for the ordinance.

The ruling drew a tough reaction from Denver mayor Michael Hancock, who said he was “very disappointed in today’s ruling by the Court of Appeals.” In a letter to the Court of Appeals, Hancock wrote, “Section 217.31 allows the City Council and the City Attorney to address encampments that are on public property that remains in perpetual decay and are illegal. A decision that penalizes the actions of Denver officers attempting to enforce such a section unfairly persecutes law enforcement and could create a less safe Denver for all citizens.”

But the organization behind the lawsuit, One Voice Colorado, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and the Denver Civic Center Faith Coalition, called the decision a “complete victory for our clients and the communities that live with people experiencing homelessness.”

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