Class Certification Granted to Thousands of Homeless Suing Denver Over Sweeps

Today, Thursday, April 27, U.S. District Court Judge William Martinez granted class certification in a lawsuit that challenges Denver's homeless sweeps. According to the attorney representing the plaintiffs, Jason Flores-Williams, the ruling is historic: It was made on civil-rights grounds, and the certified class covers every single person who finds themselves experiencing homelessness in Denver — at latest count, 3,600 in Denver County, according to the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative.

"By granting class certification, the federal court recognized that the City of Denver has a policy focused on homeless persons," says Flores-Williams. "[It's] a policy that many believe to be an immoral, unjust and unconstitutional war on the poor."

The lawsuit against Denver alleges that the city has violated the Constitution when it's conducted homeless sweeps, including violating the Fourth Amendment's protections against unlawful searches and seizures.

Prior to class certification being granted on Thursday, the case had a number of hearings and had recently seen developments in April when documents turned over to Flores-Williams during the discovery phase of the case revealed that city employees had trashed people's belongings during a sweep that occurred in July 2016.

"This is a huge win," says Flores-Williams about the class-certification ruling.

Westword reached out to the city and received the following statement from the Denver City Attorney's Office late Thursday afternoon:

“The City and County of Denver spends nearly $50 million a year on direct and indirect homeless services. In the last several years, the City has increased direct services, including overnight and day shelter services as well as increased access to housing for all people. Our focus is on connecting people who are on the streets to the individualized assistance needed to help them stabilize their lives and move forward. The City's practice is to first try and connect people to services and treatment, and if that doesn't work, people are given notice, usually multiple times, before any enforcement action is taken. These are complex challenges and we strive to be as compassionate as possible while also ensuring safety and public health for all Denver residents.

Today’s ruling had nothing to do with the merits of the Plaintiffs’ claims, which the City has shown to be unsupported. The City remains confident in its legal position in the case, that its clean-up efforts were consistent with due process, and that it will eventually prevail on the merits.”

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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker