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Reader: Criminalizing Homelessness Is Despicable

Jerry Burton is facing charges for violating Denver's camping ban, but his lawyer says the ban is unconstitutional.
Jerry Burton is facing charges for violating Denver's camping ban, but his lawyer says the ban is unconstitutional.
Anthony Camera

Denver's urban camping ban is once again being challenged in court. Andy McNulty, an attorney with Killmer, Lane & Newman, LLP, is defending Jerry Burton, who was ticketed for sleeping outside on April 29, and last week filed a motion to dismiss the case against Burton on the grounds that the camping ban is unconstitutional.

Here's what readers have to say about one of Denver's most controversial policies:

Says Colleen:

Criminalizing poverty and homelessness and our most vulnerable is absolutely despicable. I hope McNulty wins.

Adds Chrissy:

These are real people you all are talking about, you know that, right? Living, breathing and usually in a ton of emotional pain...they deserve to be treated with basic human dignity.

Argues Chris:

"Urban camping"? Get real. Stop your newspeak.

Suggests Jonathan:

Look at San Francisco if you want to see what happens when urban camping is approved.

Responds Samuel:

They gotta go somewhere. Maybe if a bunch of people with no perspective yell things like “stop being homeless” and “get a job” everything will just fix itself?

Concludes Dixie:

Keep the camping ban.

McNulty's motion is awaiting a hearing. If one is granted, he hopes that the camping ban, which was signed into law in 2012 and upheld by a vast majority of Denver voters after Initiative 300 (known as "Right to Survive") failed this May, could be struck down by the court.

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Ryan Luby, a spokesperson for the Denver City Attorney’s Office, wrote in an email to Westword that the city cannot comment on the litigation because it is an ongoing case in criminal court, but said, "We believe the ordinance is constitutionally sound."

McNulty’s motion makes 49 pages of arguments to the contrary. The most important part of his case, he says, is that the camping ban violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

“[The camping ban] is targeted at a specific discrete group of people who had no political power, because people with political power wanted those people to be forced out of the city of Denver,” he says. The camping ban is technically neutral on who it criminalizes, outlawing any act of “resid[ing] or dwell[ing] temporarily in a place, with shelter,” where shelter is defined as “any tent, tarpaulin, lean-to, sleeping bag, bedroll, blankets, or any form of cover or protection from the elements other than clothing.”

What do you think about the camping ban? Let us know in a comment or at editorial@westword.com.

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