ACLU Sends Hancock Scathing Letter on Misuse of Donations for Homeless Sweeps

Just over a week ago, Denver officials admitted that they used tens of thousands of dollars from a donation fund connected with Denver’s Road Home to help pay for street sweeps that dismantled homeless encampments in early March. Calling it an “accounting error,” Mayor Michael Hancock said that the funds would be replaced and that the rest of the $76,289 earmarked from the donation fund for the sweeps would not be used to settle any outstanding bills associated with them. 

But the ACLU of Colorado says that’s not good enough.

In a strongly worded letter sent to the Mayor, his staff and members of Denver City Council on July 6, the ACLU demanded more accountability for the city’s use of the fund. Citing e-mails obtained through Colorado Open Records Act requests, the ACLU says it has evidence showing 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.

In response, ACLU of Colorado Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley says: “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.

“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.”

The ACLU’s letter also charges that the use of the donation fund was unethical and potentially unlawful, since Denver’s Road Home’s website promises that “No money at all goes to the City of Denver."

Some of the money in the fund also comes from donation meters set up around the city and at Denver International Airport, which feature labels that claim donations help the homeless in the following ways:

$1 = a hot meal
$10 = a night of shelter
$20 = a day of long-term housing
$50 = a day of substance abuse treatment
$100 = one week of counseling

Instead, the city has already paid $10,740 to a private company called Custom Environmental Services to move and store items confiscated from the homeless during the sweeps. Those items were destroyed after being stored at a facility on Glenarm Place for sixty days; during that time, only one person came to reclaim property.

The ACLU’s letter concludes by offering suggestions for how the city could better approach the issues of homelessness, including repealing the urban-camping ban.

Read the letter in its entirety:

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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

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