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Reader: City Should Spend Homeless Camp Cleanup Money on Mental Illness
Brandon Marshall

Reader: City Should Spend Homeless Camp Cleanup Money on Mental Illness

Records show that the City of Denver has paid Custom Environmental Services $400,000 since September 2017 to help sweep homeless encampments that pop up around the city. Homeless sweeps are already a controversial practice in Denver, and the new information revealed through a records request illustrates how costly they can be.

Readers have different ideas for how that money should be spent.

Barbara asks:

Can you imagine if Public Works and DPD “hired” the homeless to clean up the encampments and then gave each of them $500? They might spend it at Motel 6 or drugs, but it would still be less than $400K.

Lydie wonders:

Maybe that money would be better spent on increasing beds for mental illness.

Emily says:

In nine years in NYC I can count on one hand how many homeless I’ve seen actually sleeping outside. There you have two options if you have nowhere to go — let an officer take you to a shelter or jail. Not saying it’s right or wrong, but something needs to change out here. The city should take lessons from other cities thated have successfully addressed and fix this exact problem.

Kirk asks:

Why not spend that money on a solution? This is the same mentality Trump uses when he sent 5,000 troops to the border instead of 500 people to offer medical assistance and 500 people to process asylum claims.

Loren argues:

I’m surprised it’s not more when you see all the trash and rats. It’s a huge mess they choose to live in.

Keep reading for more stories about homelessness in Denver.

Reader: City Should Spend Homeless Camp Cleanup Money on Mental Illness
Courtesy of Colorado Village Collaborative

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Emails obtained under the Colorado Open Records Act, then posted to the open-records website MuckRock, show itemized receipts from Custom Environmental Services spanning from September 2017 to September 2018 for things like “mobilize to site to continue clean-up” and “mobilize to storage facility for homeless to claim belongings.” The storage facility is a city-owned building near the South Platte River that stores items taken during cleanups for thirty days so that owners can retrieve them.

Homeless sweeps in Denver are contentious, with naysayers arguing that displacing the homeless by taking their possessions is immoral, impractical and may run afield of protections guaranteed by the Constitution, including due process and protections against unlawful searches and seizures. Denver's large encampment cleanups are even the subject of a federal class action lawsuit that is scheduled to begin in March 2019. The judge in that case, William Martinez, has defined homeless sweeps as “'the City and County of Denver’s alleged custom or practice (written or unwritten) of sending ten or more employees or agents to clear away an encampment of multiple homeless persons by immediately seizing and discarding the property found there.'”

It is unclear how much money the city spends on using Denver Public Works employees and Denver Police officers for homeless sweeps (records custodians say they don't have that information), but the receipts detailing hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to Custom Environmental Services offer a glimpse into the cost of dismantling homeless encampments.

What do you think about Denver's homeless sweeps? Let us know in a comment or at westword.com.

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