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Denver police stop enforcing camping ban while city appeals court ruling

Police stopped enforcing ban Friday
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Posted at 12:51 PM, Dec 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-30 20:37:59-05

DENVER — The city of Denver is appealing a court ruling that found its urban camping ban to be unconstitutional.

The city filed its notice of appeal Monday in Denver District Court following the Friday ruling by County Judge Johnny C. Barajas. The judge determined that the ban enacted in 2012 constitutes cruel and unusual punishment against the homeless.

Barajas' decision came in a case involving Jerry Burton, a homeless advocate, who had been cited for violating Denver's ban.

"I'm happy they did rule in my favor," Burton told Denver7 on Monday. "It's the right thing to do. We've got to find some middle ground."

Burton said he still hasn't received his items after police cited him several months ago.

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"I'm still waiting for them to give back my Marine Corps blanket," said the veteran.

Barajas' ruling is a win for homeless advocates.

A police spokesman told Denver7 Monday that police stopped enforcing the ban on Friday, shortly after the lower court's decision.

"Enforcement of the Unauthorized camping ordinance has been suspended," a police spokesman said. "Our outreach and efforts to connect people with services will continue."

There is mounting concern about a number of homeless camps that seem to be growing daily after the judge's ruling late last week.

A church off 24th and California has become a ground zero of sorts. Neighbors told Denver7 the growing encampment in the public right-of-way is a haven for heroin use.

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But homeless advocates say Denver continues to fail the homeless.

"If they don't want them to stay in the streets, then build someplace where they can stay," said Tracey Gully. "They're building all these new high rises. How about some for lower-income folks?"

The lower court's ruling is not a reversal of the ban.

"In order for that to happen, a higher court must make a ruling or the Denver City Council could repeal the ordinance," Howard said.

The ruling does affirm what Denver Out Loud has called an unconstitutional ban for years.

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"It's considered cruel and unusual punishment to criminalize folks - and that includes harassing folks, telling folks to move on and ticketing folks for doing things that you have to do to survive," Howard said. "You simply can't force people into shelters like jail."

The city's motion Monday seeks a stay of Barajas' ruling pending appeal.

Barajas cited a 2018 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down a ban on camping in public places in Boise, Idaho. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that case.

Denver voters rejected a ballot measure in May that would have overturned the camping ban.