City and DU Law School Clash Over Homeless Report Critical of Denver Laws
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City and DU Law School Clash Over Homeless Report Critical of Denver Laws

On May 7, we reported on a study released that day by the Homeless Advocacy Policy Project at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law that asserts that many municipal ordinances in Colorado — including fifteen laws in Denver — disproportionately target homeless populations.

“Too High a Price 2” is a followup to a 2016 report released by the law school that showed how cities including Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder spend millions of dollars enforcing laws that effectively criminalize homelessness (including such ordinances as camping bans, park curfews and limits on panhandling).

Westword had asked the City of Denver for comment on the newest report, but didn’t hear back before our article was published at noon May 7. The next day, however, Denver Department of Human Services spokeswoman Julie Smith emailed us with a lengthy, point-by-point refutation of some of the DU report’s findings, beginning with this statement:

“We appreciate the continued focus on homelessness by the law school, yet this report and its findings in many instances are incorrect or misleading. Denver’s multi-faceted approach to addressing homelessness is making a difference in the lives of our residents. We have housed thousands of people, have helped thousands more avoid the loss of their home through eviction support, have increased the number of shelter beds and have improved the quality of services. We launched innovative new programs like Denver Day Works, co-responders and Social Impact Bond financed housing for those experiencing homelessness. We support creative options like tiny homes, modular homes and ADUs. And we are constantly looking at new and better ways to serve people experiencing homelessness.”

Smith went on to counter the report's findings, including its arguments that Denver does not have enough emergency shelter beds to accommodate its homeless population and that the number of “move on” orders under Denver’s camping ban have skyrocketed in recent years. Westword forwarded Smith's observations to professor Nantiya Ruan, who oversaw the DU report; Ruan responded with the law school's own detailed commentary and refutations of the city’s reaction to the report.

We’ve included the city’s entire response, along with the University of Denver’s response to the response, below in a PDF. But first, here’s the University of Denver’s main reaction to the city’s pushback against its report: “Lifting people up with services that, though commendable, fall short of the need, and at the same time pushing people down with laws that criminalize homelessness, does not warrant praise without critique. Too High a Price Two acknowledges Denver has made some good efforts to address homelessness, but points out, rightfully, that those efforts pale in comparison to the harm perpetrated against the city’s homeless residents through move on orders, tickets, and jail time."

Read the rest below. Everything in black was given to us by the city; the comments in blue were submitted by the University of Denver in response to the city's statements.

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