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Auditor finds Denver isn't tracking how much it spends on its homeless encampment response

Denver Large Scale Encampment Cleanup
Posted at 11:39 PM, Apr 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-21 01:39:33-04

DENVER — The City of Denver doesn’t know how much it is spending on its response to homeless encampments, according to a new report from the city auditor.

Denver Auditor Timothy O’Brien listed four findings in his study of the city's multi-agency encampment response — the second being that the city lacks a formal structure, clear budget and expense tracking on how much it spends dealing with encampments.

“It's difficult to reconstruct it,” O’Brien told Denver7.

O’Brien estimates the city spent $13.65 million on encampment-related expenses between January 2019 and June 2022, but believes the true cost is much larger. Of the 10 city agencies that are responsible for homeless encampments, only four responded to his requests for expenses for the last 3.5 years.

Auditor finds Denver isn't tracking how much it spends on homeless encampments

“I don't have an answer for you of what the number probably is. You know, some of it is for sweeps. Some of this is for outreach to the people that are experiencing homelessness,” O'Brien said.

Expenses include costs for personnel, contractors, equipment, cleanup, outreach and enforcement. The Denver Police Department said it was unable to provide the auditor with any information because encampment response is not tracked separately for officers.

O'Brien listed out a multi-step plan to improve the city's response, with recommendations ranging from establishing and documenting roles and responsibilities to conducting a staffing analysis. The city agreed to all of the recommendations.

“I think this is such an important issue for the community. It's been a big issue for both, all the campaigns. I think the next administration will track things and track things better than have been in the past,” O’Brien said.

The auditor’s report also found Denver needs to find a more equitable way to reunite unhoused individuals with their belongings after a cleanup. O'Brien found only 8.7% of property stored was picked up between 2019 and 2022.

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