Did the City Violate Its Policy by Trashing Belongings of Homeless, As Seen in New Video?

A screen shot of the video showing Denver throwing out a shopping cart.EXPAND
A screen shot of the video showing Denver throwing out a shopping cart.
YouTube — Denver Homeless Out Loud
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An advocacy organization for the homeless has shared video footage, captured July 9, of Denver police, city employees and private contractors throwing a homeless person’s shopping cart into a garbage truck.

The video (seen below) is being touted by advocates as another sweep of property belonging to the homeless and evidence that the city has broken its promise to temporarily store belongings it takes from public walkways — like the one where this video was shot, near the Denver Rescue Mission on Park Avenue — so owners can eventually retrieve them.

"Homeless sweeps” has been in the local lexicon since a series of large cleanup operations in late 2015 and 2016 in which police and city employees cleared out encampments of a dozen or more individuals experiencing homelessness. Those operations, documented by Westword, became the basis of an ongoing class action lawsuit in which the plaintiffs, Denver’s entire homeless population — over 3,200 people — charge that their Fourth Amendment rights, or the protection against unlawful searches and seizures, are being violated when the city trashes their property.

And homeless advocacy organizations like Denver Homeless Out Loud, which published the video shot yesterday on YouTube, say that sweeps are ongoing, only smaller in scale and on a more regular basis.

“In spite of claiming that they do not throw away homeless people's property in sweeps but rather take it to storage, and in spite of being currently in federal court under a class action lawsuit for the violation of 4th amendment property rights, the city threw a homeless person's cart with all their worldly belongings — such as back pack, tarp, tent — straight in the trash,” the organization noted today in a press release accompanying the video. “This has happened many times before...but this time it was caught on camera.”

But the city has a different explanation about what is going on in the video. Denver Public Works spokeswoman Heather Burke described things this way in an email:

“On Monday, July 9, a Denver Public Works crew was conducting their normal cleanup in the vicinity of Lawrence and Park Avenue downtown, when they came across unattended items in a cart in the public right-of-way…Per city protocol, unattended items are stored temporarily so long as such items do not pose a health or safety risk." 

Then Burke added, “As the crew began to inventory the items, they found: feces, needles, sharp containers [and] homemade weapons. Therefore, the cart and its contents were disposed of per the established protocol due to the health and safety risk."

Burke said the city currently has over 2,000 cubic feet worth of belongings in temporary storage for individuals experiencing homelessness to retrieve. 

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