Board of County Commissioners. (Courtesy/Weld County)
Earlier this month, Weld County commissioners voted unanimously to pass an ordinance banning camping in public places — essentially making it illegal for people experiencing homelessness to sleep outside in public.
According to the new ordinance, camping covers living accommodations whether temporary or permanent, including vehicles. The ban includes, but is not limited to:
- Sleeping or making preparations to sleep, including the lying down of bedding for the purpose of sleeping
- Occupying a shelter outside, including any cover or protection from the elements other than clothing (read: tent, shack, sleeping back, tarp, etc.)
- Motor vehicles or recreational vehicles for more than 48 hours
- Presence or use of a campfire, camp stove, or other heating sources or cooking devices
- Keeping or storing personal property
The ban won’t apply to areas such as the Pawnee National Grassland, according to Reghan Cloudman, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Forest Service, as that is legal camping under federal laws and regulations.
The move comes as some municipalities, such as the city of Greeley, have made significant efforts to address homelessness.
Cities in the Denver metro area have enacted, or considered enacting, similar camping bans recently. In May, for example, Douglas County commissioners introduced a camping ban ordinance, according to CBS News.
These kinds of bans have faced legal challenges across the state in recent years.
In 2022, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the city of Boulder, claiming its camping ban — in place since 1980 — violates rights protected by the Colorado Constitution. Like Weld, Boulder’s ban also makes it illegal for folks to sleep in public spaces with any cover or protection from the elements.
“Courts across the country have recognized that (camping bans) violate the Constitution to punish people for sleeping outdoors when they have no meaningful alternative,” according to the ACLU.
A Boulder County District Court judge rejected the city of Boulder’s attempt to dismiss the lawsuit back in February, according to KUNC, though the judge did support the city in some aspects.
The judge agreed it was a reasonable exercise of the city’s police power to regulate the use of public lands and public health. However, according to KUNC, if no other shelter is available, the judge said there is a case to be made.
As it stands, Greeley — Weld’s largest municipality — does not have a homeless shelter open 365 days out of the year, though some plans are in the works to pursue that option.
According to a 2022 point-in-time survey count, there were 83 unsheltered people experiencing homelessness in Greeley. Of those, 62 people qualified as chronically homeless.
According to a grant application the city submitted for shelter funding, the city only has emergency shelter options between the months of November and April when the emergency cold weather shelter operates — and it doesn’t have enough beds to meet the needs.
— Kelly Ragan is the founder and senior editor of the NoCo Optimist. You can usually find her covering Greeley and Weld County government. Have a tip? Let her know at TheNoCoOptimist@gmail.com. Find more NoCo Optimist content at www.thenocooptimist.com.