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ACLU Challenges Boulder’s No-Camping Law

Published on: June 29th, 2010

Unless you are an extreme outdoors enthusiast, you probably don’t choose to go camping during Colorado’s frosty winter nights.

But what if you didn’t have a choice? And what if the material keeping you from literally freezing to death turned you into a criminal? While this may seem like a hypothetical situation, it is reality for homeless man David Madison.

Last November, after getting turned away from Boulder’s homeless shelter (which has a capacity of 160 people), Madison was arrested for “camping.” For those unfamiliar, it is a crime in Boulder for people to spend their nights outside covered by anything more than their clothes. This includes tents, blankets or, as in Madison’s case, sleeping bags. In fact, in the past four years, Boulder’s blue and white have shelled out more 1,600 tickets for the “anti-camping” law.

Attempting to bring Madison to justice, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado) filed an appeal this week to challenge the shelter-prohibiting law.

“When the homeless shelters are closed or full, it is terribly unfair, and unconstitutional, to impose fines and jail sentences on persons who have no choice but to sleep outdoors,” said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director, in a prepared statement.

On the night that Madison was arrested, it was a teeth-chattering 11 degrees outside.

“Our case highlights both the absurdity and the cruelty of Boulder’s ordinance,” attorney Mark Walta said. “Because the frost-covered sleeping bag was deemed to be ‘shelter,’ the Municipal Court said our client was violating the law. If our client had just slept in his clothes, he might have gotten hypothermia, but he would have been found not guilty.”

Wanting to protect others from both the weather and the same fate, ACLU staff attorney Taylor Pendergrass also wrote a letter to the Boulder City Council. The letter explains Madison’s case and attempts to warm the council to changing this ice-cold ordinance.

If you would like to read the letter, it is available in PDF format on the ACLU’s web site at:
aclu-co.org/docket/201007/boulder.city.council.aclu.6.28.10.pdf.

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