Eight Outdoor Homeless Deaths During 2014 in Boulder, CO, Where it is Illegal to Use a Blanket for Warmth

“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” (The Wealth of Nations, Book V)
— Adam Smith

Eight homeless people died outdoors or in public buildings during 2014 in Boulder, CO, which the Boulder Camera has chosen as its #3 local story of the year (Mitchell Byars, “Boulder’s spike in homeless deaths,” December 28, 2014). That is more than the total homeless deaths which occurred during the past three years combined.

The Camera reported that in six of those 2014 deaths substance abuse was definitely or possibly a cause or contributing cause (including alcohol poisoning, heroin intoxication, and one man who died after falling off of a ledge on the CU campus while he was drunk). The cause of the latest death, Jason Gray, 42, whose body was found in November, is still under investigation.

One man, Paul Klavoon, 52, died of hypothermia without the aid of any drugs during a very cold night in September.

As per the city’s revised code § 5-6-10, it is illegal to “camp” anywhere on public or open space in Boulder while using “shelter”. For the purposes of the ordinance:

  • “camp” means to reside or dwell temporarily in a place, with shelter, and conduct activities of daily living, such as eating or sleeping, in such place.

  • The term "shelter" includes, without limitation, any cover or protection from the elements other than clothing.

Those definitions apply to all residents of Boulder, including those with no homes or money and so no other place than public places to eat and sleep. While people literally freeze to death on the streets of Boulder, using anything other than clothing for warmth is illegal and makes homeless bodies vulnerable to further harassment at the hands of police.

There was at least one case where a homeless man was cited under the city code for sleeping under a tree. The policeman apparently considered such proximity to vegetation to be “protection from the elements other than clothing.”

Inspired by the success of Boulder’s harsh camping ban at withstanding legal challenge (including a suit brought by the ACLU), in early 2012 Denver’s city council passed an anti-camping bill which borrows its wording from Boulder’s law. Denver’s Revised Municipal Code § 38-86.2 includes the following definitions:

“Camp” means to reside or dwell temporarily in a place, with shelter. The term “shelter” includes, without limitation, any tent, tarpaulin, lean-to, sleeping bag, bedroll, blankets, or any form of cover or protection from the elements other than clothing. The term “reside or dwell” includes, without limitation, conducting such activities as eating, sleeping, or the storage of personal possessions.