Denver Settles Class Action Lawsuit Over Homeless Sweeps

DENVER (CN) – Denver recently struck a deal with a class of homeless people who lost their possessions one cold December day in 2015 when a police officer filled a garbage truck with medicines, tents, and blankets belonging to people who were sleeping outside a shelter.

“Now we must return our focus to the important mission of connecting those experiencing homelessness with the resources they need to obtain housing, access treatment on demand, and engage with opportunity so that no one is left behind,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement.

Lead plaintiff Raymond Lyall sued the city of Denver in August 2016, claiming its enforcement of a 2012 Urban Camping Ban sanctioned unlawful searches and seizures, depriving thousands of people of their property without notice or due process. “These sweeps that have been ratified and implemented by defendants not only violate plaintiffs’ rights, but our concept of a just society,” the 36-page lawsuit stated.

The city countered that the sweeps were a response to local complaints about unsafe and unsanitary parks, and that homeless encampments allowed for “violent crime against the female homeless population, open drug dealing and other safety issues.”

On Tuesday, the city agreed to adopt a number of policies aiming to “make the city a national leader concerning the rights and treatment of those experiencing homelessness in America.” As a first step, the city will implement sensitivity training for employees and listen to quarterly feedback from a homeless advisory group to monitor ongoing concerns.

Denver also agreed to give seven days written notice before cleaning up campsites and to make seized property available for retrieval for 60 days “at no cost without fear of arrest.”

To address the issue of storage, Denver will install 200 lockers outside the Minoru Yasui Plaza building on east Colfax Avenue where people can stash their property for up to a month. Sharps disposal boxes and Porta-Potty locations will be expanded throughout city parks.

“It’s not a panacea for economic injustice, but a real effort by a major American city to recognize the constitutional rights of the poor and dispossessed,” lead attorney Jason Flores-Williams, a criminal justice lawyer with a reputation for representing underdogs, said in a statement.  

Flores-Williams also represented the Colorado River in a push to grant it personhood in 2017.

The settlement agreement, which is not available to the public, is subject to the approval of the Denver City Council Monday.

Other efforts on behalf of the homeless in Denver include a new ballot initiative aiming to repeal the city’s urban camping ban. Initiative 300, dubbed “the Right to Survive Initiative” would ensure “the right to rest in a non-obstructive manner in public spaces” and “the right to eat, share, accept, or give free food in any public space where food is not prohibited.”

The state legislature defeated a similar campaign, the ever-persistent Homeless Bill of Rights, last March.

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