City Must Alter Approach and End Policies that Criminalize Homelessness
DENVER – Following revelations that several high-ranking Denver officials approved the use of $60,000 from a “homeless services donation fund” linked to Denver’s Road Home to pay for the displacement of unhoused people and the confiscation of their possessions, the ACLU of Colorado sent a letter this morning to Mayor Hancock and the City Council demanding greater transparency and accountability in the use of funds for homeless services and an end to policies, like the camping ban and the ongoing sweeps, that effectively make it a crime to be homeless.
“We are deeply disappointed in the callousness displayed by city officials who approved the use of donated funds intended to help the homeless to sweep them away, confiscate their property, and drive them further from services,” said ACLU of Colorado Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley. “Unfortunately, this incident is not an outlier. It is representative of an approach by Mayor Hancock and his administration that far too often prioritizes criminalization over real solutions to address poverty and homelessness.”
On July 1, CBS4 Denver reported that the City of Denver paid Custom Environmental Services, Inc., an outside contractor, from a fund that included private charitable donations – most notably, donations made through meters around the city and at Denver International Airport – for work crews to confiscate the possessions of unhoused people during controversial anti-homeless sweeps initiated by Mayor Hancock in March.
Despite public statements by city officials that the payment was an “accounting error,” emails obtained by the ACLU show that several high-ranking officials, including Deputy Chief of Staff Evan Dreyer and Chief Financial Officer Brendan Hanlon, approved the use of donation funds while planning the sweeps. Not one official copied on the emails objected, and the city only changed course months later when the payment was about to be made public.
The donation meters were set up around Denver largely to discourage the public from giving directly to people experiencing homelessness. Labels on the meters advertise that “100% of Donations Benefit Denver’s Road Home,” an initiative started in 2005 by Mayor Hickenlooper and administered by Mile High United Way. The Denver’s Road Home website states that “No money at all goes to the City of Denver.”
The sweeps in March signaled a much harsher approach to poverty and homelessness by Mayor Hancock and his administration. Westword recently reported that enforcement of the camping ban was up nearly 500% in March and April over the previous 45 months. Denver police invoked the camping ban 1,972 times to displace people in the first four months of 2016 alone, according to Westword.
“The strategy of using law enforcement as the primary response to homelessness in Denver is obviously ineffective, doing nothing to address underlying causes. Sweeps that keep people who are homeless constantly on the move often disconnect them from services, and confiscation of property, citations and arrests, fines and fees, and prohibitions on peaceful sleep and personal shelter only make underlying problems for unhoused persons worse,” wrote Woodliff-Stanley and Public Policy Director Denise Maes in the ACLU letter, which was delivered this morning to Mayor Hancock, the Denver City Council, and members of Denver’s Commission on Homelessness.
Photo of Donation Meter: https://aclu-co.org/roadhomemeter/