Denver homeless activists have their day in court

Denver’s five-year camping ban is on trial today as three homeless defendants contest tickets for sleeping outside with blankets.

Police rarely issue tickets for violators of the ban, preferring to issue warnings and urge people to “move along” to shelters or other areas. In 2016, Denver Police issued only nine camping tickets, Denverite reports.

But on Nov. 28, defendants Jerry Burton and Randy Russell stood their ground and received  tickets. Later that night, while camping outside the City and County Building, both Burton and Russell received additional tickets and police confiscated their camping gear as evidence. Terese Howard, a member of advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud, was also cited.

The three have pleaded not guilty and now face a jury trial to challenge the policy, which they say is more of a “survival ban” than a camping ban. Mayor Michael Hancock has urged police not to confiscate sleeping bags or blankets, but the case will be the first official challenge of the ban.

The Denver Police Department says officers provide rides to shelters, share information about available resources and give multiple warnings before issuing tickets.

Attorney Jason Flores-Williams, who is representing the defendants, will focus this week on whether his clients violated the law as it stands. But he believes that this issue goes deeper, and that the camping ban violates the constitutional right to due process and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is not involved in this case, has called the ban “cruel,” saying that it ultimately allows people to sleep outside only if they are willing to forego blankets.

The trial began this morning at 8 a.m. at the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse. It is expected to continue until Thursday.


Photo by Eliza Carter