July 29, 2021
DENVER – ACLU of Colorado sent a letter today to government officials in Boulder, demanding an end to their unconstitutional and inhumane treatment of unhoused Boulder residents. The letter followed an ACLU investigation that found that unhoused residents are denied shelter due to arbitrary residency requirements and unjustly prosecuted for sleeping outdoors even when they have no adequate alternatives.
According to the letter, Boulder, “with one hand makes shelter available to only a limited few, and with the other, criminalizes those forced to sleep outdoors under the false narrative that they are resistant to services.”
ACLU of Colorado called on officials to rescind a policy that unconstitutionally distinguishes between older and newer residents in the provision of shelter services. The policy generally excludes individuals who have lived in Boulder County for less than six months from staying at the shelter, except in the most severe weather. Anyone who makes the mistake of trying to stay at the shelter before they meet the six-month residency requirement is barred from accessing most of the shelter’s overnight services for two years.
Records reviewed by the ACLU suggest that the policy was adopted to conserve resources for longtime residents and prevent new unhoused individuals from traveling to, and living in, Boulder. But “Boulder simply cannot constitutionally address homelessness by trying to keep unhoused people out of town,” the letter states. The U.S. Supreme Court has left no room for doubt that conditioning vital government assistance on a minimum length of county residency is unlawful.
ACLU of Colorado also called on Boulder to stop enforcing its camping ban against people experiencing homelessness who cannot stay at the shelter. Courts around the country have recognized that it violates the Constitution to punish people for sleeping outdoors when they have no meaningful alternative. Earlier this year, ACLU of Colorado won a ruling that the City of Fort Collins violated this constitutional principle when it prosecuted a man for sleeping in his vehicle overnight when he could not go to an indoor shelter. Similar to Fort Collins’ ordinance, Boulder’s camping ban makes it a crime to sleep overnight in public space. At the same time, inadequate shelter capacity, exclusionary policies like the unconstitutional six-month residency requirement, and other barriers to shelter make it impossible for many unhoused Boulder residents to sleep indoors. Records reviewed by the ACLU suggest that the City unlawfully enforces its ordinance without any inquiry into whether the individual cited had any choice but to sleep outside — a practice that risks punishing people just for experiencing homelessness in Boulder.
“Boulder prides itself for being recognized two years in a row as ‘the No. 1 place in America to call home.’ It is our hope that the City… will recognize that unhoused residents have every right to call Boulder home, too.”
The letter was addressed to the Executive Board of Homeless Solutions for Boulder County (“HSBC”), the intergovernmental entity that coordinates services for individuals experiencing homelessness in Boulder County, as well as Boulder City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde. It was authored by Annie Kurtz, an attorney and ACLU of Colorado’s Equal Justice Works Fellow. Her fellowship is sponsored by Greenberg Traurig, LLP.
The ACLU of Colorado is the state’s oldest civil rights organization, protecting and defending the civil rights of all Coloradans through litigation, education and advocacy.