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Supreme Court Ruling Puts Denver's Camping Ban Back in Spotlight

The Homes for All Act, recently introduced in the U.S. House, aims to expand public housing stock in the United States and would guarantee housing as a human right. (Galatas)
The Homes for All Act, recently introduced in the U.S. House, aims to expand public housing stock in the United States and would guarantee housing as a human right. (Galatas)
December 19, 2019

DENVER -- This week's U.S. Supreme Court decision not to hear a major homeless case puts a spotlight on Denver's controversial camping ban.

The high court's decision upholds a federal appeals court ruling that a similar law in Bois, Idaho, violated the Constitution's Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Terese Howard, an organizer with the advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud, hopes city officials will reconsider the city's ordinance in light of the court's decision.

"Our city government should hear that, and should respond by saying, 'Oh, we have an unconstitutional law on our books,'" she points out. "'We need to reverse that.'"

The Denver City Attorney's office told The Denver Post no changes are planned for the ordinance, and said the law is carefully and thoughtfully enforced.

In the Boise case, the city argued that banning people from sleeping outside in tents or other shelters is necessary to maintain the health and safety of the community.

Howard says cities across the U.S. have used health and safety claims to justify camping bans, but she says the reality for people experiencing homelessness is the exact opposite.

"Criminalizing folks, moving folks along, puts people's health and safety at risk," she stresses. "There are ways to address health and safety needs, like sanitation, porta potties, hand washing. That's not what they do."

In May, Denver residents voted against an initiative to overturn the camping ban, after a well-financed opposition campaign promised that the city could "do better."

Howard maintains the federal government also has a role to play, and points to the recently introduced Homes for All Act.

"That would actually invest around 12 million new housing units, and that's the first time since the 1930s any bill has been introduced that even comes close to creating public housing in accordance with the need," she states.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO