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Tentative agreement reached in class action lawsuit against Denver over homeless sweeps

Posted at 1:01 PM, Feb 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-01 20:07:51-05

DENVER — A tentative deal has been reached in a class action lawsuit against the City and County of Denver over the city’s homeless sweeps, according to a joint press release from the city and lead counsel for the plaintiff.

The lawsuit was filed in federal district court in August 2016 on behalf of thousands of homeless individuals after the city removed personal property during sweeps of public spaces near downtown shelters.

The 36-page complaint, filed by attorney Jason Flores-Williams, asserted the city’s cleanup efforts had repeatedly violated the constitutional rights and dignity of thousands of people.

City officials had maintained the sweeps were well within the law and that they were carried out with compassion. The items removed from the cleanups were stored for later retrieval, the city said.

As part of the proposed settlement announced Wednesday, the city will issue a seven-day notice before large-scale cleanups get underway. Also, the city has agreed to provide written notice of regular cleanups, including days and hours, posted near the location they will take place.

Other commitments addressed in the agreement include extending the time items will be stored for individuals to 60 days and extending storage facility hours. The city will also place 200 lockers at the Minoru Yasui Plaza building that may be used to store property for up to 30 days, according to the release.

The six homeless people who brought the suit would also each get $5,000 and Denver would pay for their lawyers' fees under the settlement.

Additionally, the proposed agreement includes the following commitments:

  • City officials will meet with an advisory group composed of people experiencing homelessness and their representatives on a quarterly basis to obtain feedback on City programs, listen to concerns and to discuss proposals.
  • 48-hour notice will be affixed to unattended personal property, in violation of the Encumbrance Ordinance in regular cleanup areas, unless determined by the city to be an immediate health or safety risk.
  • Development of a formal notification system by the city that personal property has been removed, including where the property was found and is being stored.
  • 15 additional trash receptacles will be added to the Ballpark Neighborhood, and will not be removed for three years unless public health or safety requires it.
  • Additional trash receptacles will be added during spring and summer months to Park and Recreational areas.
  • Two port-o-lets, accessible twenty-four hours a day, will be placed at Sonny Larson Park.
  • Sharps disposal boxes will be placed in Governor’s Park, Lincoln/La Alma Park, Macintosh Park, and possibly Sonny Lawson Park.
  • For purposes of the PLAY program, the city will allow the use of “homeless ID” cards as a form of picture identification, and will allow the use of labor pay stubs, letters from shelters and letters from other homeless service providers as documentation for proof of income for participation.
  • The city will seek requests for qualifications to operate a Mobile Health Unit and will fund the Unit.
  • The city will confirm its commitment to the expansion of the Denver Day Works program.
  • Alternatives to using inmates for cleanups will be sought.
  • Denver’s Road Home will develop a homeless sensitivity training for city employees and contractors with input from advocacy organizations.

The city said it’s satisfied with the terms of the proposed settlement, and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock stated in the release that he was “impressed with the hard work and compromise by both sides in coming to this agreement.”

Flores-Williams called the proposed settlement “a real effort by a major American city to recognize the constitutional rights of the poor and dispossessed.”

The settlement must be approved by Denver's city council and a judge.