J-SUP: Boulder Law Center for the Unhoused was formed to protect the rights of the unhoused and to fight against policies that perpetuate the cycle of homelessness. J-SUP is a tax-exempt, Colorado nonprofit corporation that provides legal services for homeless and near-homeless individuals born out of its founding members’ commitment to social justice and a belief in making a difference in the area of homelessness.
In 2011, a community-wide effort was initiated in Boulder to provide safe sleeping space to the homeless. Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow (BOHO), organized to provide winter overnight emergency centers in the city of Boulder, experimented with an outdoor Summer camp on the grounds of Congregation Har HaShem (CHH), one of BOHO’s cooperating faith-based organizations. After a year of successful operation without any citizen complaints, CHH received a Cease and Desist order from the City of Boulder Zoning Administrator on the grounds that “camping” was not a permitted use on a religious institution’s property. CHH members Bill Cohen and David Perlick were asked by CHH’s Administrator to research this issue so that the Administrator could reply to the City’s order. Cohen and Perlick determined that Appellate Courts had found that aiding the poor and the homeless was an intimate component of most religions. Therefore, using part of their property to house and feed the poor and the homeless was an “accessory use” under the Boulder Zoning Code: CHH could house and feed the poor and the homeless on its property as a matter of right. The City agreed and withdrew its Cease and Desist Order.
Cohen and Perlick, future founders of J-SUP, had demonstrated the need for lawyers with expertise in laws that impact the lives of homeless people, establishing a legal principle in Boulder that benefited all homeless people and those who would provide them shelter and sustenance. Two other CHH members Donna Axel and David Rosen, also attorneys, joined Cohen and Perlick in discussing the need for legal services to the homeless in Boulder. Thus J-SUP: Boulder Law Center for the Unhoused was formed to protect the rights of the unhoused and to help end policies that perpetuate the cycle of homelessness.
Since 2015 and relying on CRCP Rule 223 (now CRCP Rule 204.6), J-SUP: Boulder Law Center for the Unhoused has been recruiting from attorneys seeking meaningful volunteer opportunities in the Boulder area, including retired attorneys, attorneys licensed in States other than Colorado, parents seeking to reenter the legal practice and/or volunteer part-time/flexible hours, and other attorneys seeking meaningful work. In this way, J-SUP is a means for non-paid attorneys to use their talents, either to get back into the legal profession or to maintain or apply their skills. In addition, J-SUP has supervised several law students (law clerk interns or externs) from the University of Colorado and Denver University since May 2016. This approach allowed J-SUP to get started and to recruit and “employ” attorneys without funds to pay anyone.
After obtaining malpractice insurance in May 2016, J-SUP initiated a pilot “Municipal Court” Project in the Summer of 2016. J-SUP’S pro bono attorneys Angel, Axel, Brode, and Cohen represented Boulder Municipal Court defendants under the supervision of Mr. Cohen or other experienced volunteer defense attorneys, Ben Collett, Eric Zale, and Luke McConnell. By taking on individual cases in Municipal Court, we learned of other legal issues affecting our clients and perpetuating their homelessness. Bill Cohen and Eleanor Brode represented clients who were excluded from the University of Colorado University Memorial Center (UMC), raising serious Due Process issues in the appeal process provided after the exclusion took place. All of our “exclusion” cases were dismissed; two were reduced to “Warnings” not to repeat the alleged objectionable behavior (e.g., sleeping or panhandling in the UMC).