Denver Uses Funds Designated to Help Homeless People to Harass Them Instead

The city of Denver recently got caught with its hand in the cookie jar when an investigative report from local news affiliate CBS4 revealed that thousands of dollars donated by the public to provide assistance to the homeless had been misappropriated by the city. The worst part? The funds were used in March to help cover the costs of a sweep removing homeless people living in Denver’s Ballpark neighborhood.

According to the CBS4 investigation reported by Brian Maass, the redirected funds were originally donated to Denver’s Road Home, a city-instituted homeless assistance program. The program’s website explicitly states donations are used for meals, job training, housing and other programs for those in need. The website makes it clear that “no money at all goes to the City of Denver.”

Despite that clear disclaimer, the CBS4 report found invoices and work orders by city administrators that reserved “$59,509.40” from the homeless donation fund to pay an environmental contractor company to move, store and redistribute the personal property confiscated from homeless people during the sweep.

Adding further fuel to the fire, emails obtained by CBS4 revealed the extent to which city officials were complicit in the scandal.

The trouble began with an email sent by Jose Cornejo, executive director of Denver Public Works, to a number of ranking city officials that included the mayor’s chief of staff, Evan Dreyer. “We do not have in our budget a line item this [sic] extra cost to handle personal item, storage and distribution,” wrote Cornejo in reference to the $60,000 expense the city would incur following the forced removal. Brendan Hanlon, the city of Denver’s chief financial officer, in turn suggested charging the costs to the “homeless donations fund.” Cornejo’s damning response was, “Sounds like a plan.”

Prior to being caught red-handed, the city had already spent $10,740 of the Road Home’s funds. The city has since responded, according to spokesperson Sue Cobb, by assuring the public that Denver’s Public Works department will repay this amount back to the fund with the remaining balance of the costs covered by Public Works.

City Mayor Michael Hancock, who described the egregious error as an “administrative snafu,” offered the following non-apology to CBS4: “I don’t think it was mal-intent on anyone’s part. Someone may have looked at that fund and said ‘this seems appropriate,’ but when you called it to our attention we took a closer look. It’s been corrected.”

Hancock’s spokesperson Amber Milller noted that only three percent of the money from the homeless fund comprised public donations, with the rest coming from federal funds. Regardless, with thousands of dollars placed in “Donation Meters” set up around the city, such a breach of public trust seems an unconscionable error on the part of the city.

Denise Maes, a public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union, a vocal opponent of homeless sweeps, would agree. “People who give money to help the homeless believe their money is being spent the way they want it to be. This is clearly an abuse of the public trust,’  said Maes. “I certainly don’t buy the fact it’s a mistake. You caught them. They say, ‘That doesn’t look good.’ I think that’s a whitewash.”

Watch the full report below.


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