Larimer County District Court rules camping ban unconstitutional, a first in the state
Homeless advocates have long argued that local ordinances preventing camping in public spaces violates the Constitutional rights of the unhoused. And on Feb. 4, a Colorado appellate court agreed with them for the first time in the state.
In September 2018, Adam Wiemold was sleeping in his car at the Poudre rest area near I-25 in Fort Collins when law enforcement cited him for illegal camping. At the time, he had been unhoused for about two years and couldn’t stay in any of the two area shelters due to shelter policies. (He worked at one — Catholic Charities — which prevented him from staying there as well as Fort Collins Rescue Mission due to overlapping populations.) Both shelters were also at maximum capacity that night.
Although Wiemold was initially convicted of violating the City’s anti-camping ordinance in municipal court, a Larimer County District Court ruled on Feb. 4 that the prosecution against Wiemold violated the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. It follows a 2018 decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals against the City of Boise, which local cities have long argued doesn’t have jurisdiction in Colorado. According to the ACLU, which represents Wiemold, the decision in Larimer County District Court should protect many unhoused people from prosecution across the state.
“As a matter of basic human dignity, it is just wrong to criminalize a homeless person sleeping on public property when they have nowhere else to go,” said ACLU Cooperating Attorney Adam Frank said in a press release. “Everyone has to sleep. If someone is going through homelessness and can’t access shelter, they have to sleep outside. I am grateful the court recognized that the Eighth Amendment requires cities in Colorado to respect this principle of our shared humanity.”
300: The number of Colorado organizations, elected officials, businesses and community
members who signed onto a Feb. 8 letter condemning Senator John Hickenlooper’s vote to block stimulus payments to undocumented immigrants.
Denver increases occupancy limits; Could Boulder be next?
In the early hours of Feb. 9, Denver City Council voted to increase occupancy limits in the city from a maximum of two unrelated adults sharing a home to five. The vote came after three years of discussion, including research from more than 30 cities with higher occupancy limits that showed household sizes in those places were still only 2 to 3.1 people on average.
The vote also came just hours after the Bedrooms Are For People (BAFP) campaign, which seeks to expand housing options in Boulder, was approved to start gathering electronic signatures for its 2021 ballot initiative. If passed, it would allow “all housing units to be occupied by a number of people equal to the number of legal bedrooms, plus one additional person per home.” Currently, Boulder law restricts more than three unrelated adults from living in the same household, regardless of the size of the house.
“We are thrilled the Denver City Council recognized the need the reform their exclusionary home occupancy laws,” BAFP organizers said in a statement to BW. “For years, Boulder’s elected officials have refused to listen to repeated requests from thousands of their constituents, members of city-appointed boards, and city staff experts to reconsider the laws … that have harmed people and limited housing opportunities in the city for more than 50 years. ”
BAFP officially launched its petition campaign on Thursday, Feb. 11.
Should students take standardized tests this spring?
At its Feb. 9 meeting, Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution asking state and federal officials to waive standardized testing this spring in light of the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Recent polling released Feb. 4 by the Colorado Education Association (CEA) and other education organizations suggests that two-thirds of public school parents and six out of 10 rural voters in the state believe Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS, testing should be canceled this year for grades 3-8. More than half the respondents said they believed that classroom instruction and teaching would be the best method for closing any learning gaps that have arisen from the pandemic.
“When students and educators are struggling, bouncing between in-person, virtual and hybrid learning depending on the COVID-19 conditions in their community, administering the CMAS this spring would be irresponsible,” Amie Baca-Oehlert, high school counselor and president of CEA, the state’s largest educators union, said in a press release. “The wisest thing to do is to focus every single second on instruction so our students are able to concentrate on learning and maintaining their mental health until the pandemic subsides.”
But another poll from Denver-based advocacy organization A+ Colorado, released Feb. 2, found that 66% of parents with kids in grades K-12 support statewide testing this year, but only if specifically to assess student learning loss. “Resulting data should not be used for accountability purposes,” a press release from the organization reads.
In part, the BVSD resolution states, “standardized testing during the 2020-2021 school year will yield no additional timely and actionable information that would help the School District support students in catching up from COVID-19 disruptions or the District in closing the known achievement gaps.”
Testing was cancelled in 2020 after the state was granted a waiver from the federal government.