Breaking News
More () »

Audit finds Denver is "mostly, but not fully" compliant when it comes to homeless encampment response

Among other things the audit said the city needs to do more to ensure people experiencing homelessness have equitable access to stored personal belongings.

DENVER — In what the City and County of Denver's Auditor says is the first multi-agency audit of the city's response to homeless encampments, Denver is found to be "mostly, but not fully" compliant with laws, a legal settlement and appeared to equitably provide services, conduct assessments, and perform cleanups throughout the city. 

The audit determined that the city needs to do more to "ensure people experiencing homelessness have equitable access to stored personal belongings."

Documenting policies and procedures for data input, monitoring and responsibilities was also a recommendation, as well as the city needing to identify a consistent way to track encampment-related spending. 

"I think it can be really difficult when you don't have a single department doing these kinds of actions and it's spread across multiple departments," said Cathy Alderman, the Chief Communications and Public Policy Officer for Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

The audit estimates that 10 city agencies spent at least $13.65 million on encampment enforcement, outreach, and clean-up efforts from January 2019 through June 2022. However, that tally does not include expenses from the Denver Police Department.

Credit: KUSA (FILE)
A homeless encampment in the distance in downtown Denver. (FILE)

What's also noted is the growth in Denver County's 'unsheltered' population. 

Citing data from the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative's Point in Time Count, 4,794 people experienced homelessness on the night of Jan. 24, 2022, in Denver County. Of those, 1,313 — or over 27% — were unsheltered. 

Excluding 2021 due to the pandemic, the number of unsheltered people has been increasing since 2019, according to the data shown in the audit. 

Alderman says the coalition does not play a role in encampment sweeps or enforcing the camping ban, rather their street outreach program connects people on the streets to services. 

"Our goal with our street outreach programs is really to connect people to services, hopefully get them into housing, but to make sure that they can survive while they're forced to sleep outside," she said. "Of course, with more people falling into a cycle of homelessness, you know, that means that it's harder for us sometimes to connect people with housing resources because there's just more people in need and there's not a lot more resources available."

Credit: KUSA (FILE)
A homeless encampment in Denver. (FILE)

There were a total of 36 recommendations in the audit and the city agreed to all of them, the audit showed. 

“Chronic unsheltered homelessness is the most complex issue any city will manage, and we appreciate the audit team, over the course of many months, taking a hard look at how our city is approaching the challenge of encampments,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement through a press release. “More than a housing crisis, it’s a situation made more complicated amid a nationwide drug crisis, mental health crisis and continued fallout from the pandemic on our most vulnerable residents and communities.”

The city added in a release that Denver has already implemented many of the recommendations in the audit report, as well as housed nearly 15,000 unhoused residents and invested in 9,000 affordable housing units over the past 12 years, among other things. 

You can read the full audit here.


Before You Leave, Check This Out