Denver spent more than $400,000 on private contractor to help with homeless sweeps

DENVER -- New records obtained by FOX31 show that the city of Denver spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on homeless cleanups.

Between September 2017 and September 2018, records show Denver Public Works paid a private contractor $421,974 to assist with the cleanups.

That company, Custom Environmental Services, helped dispose of hazardous waste, while storing items collected during sweeps and cleanups. Those items are kept for 30 days so that owners can retrieve them.

Example of invoice to the city of Denver from Custom Environmental Services in March 2018

"Every day we are downtown, Monday through Friday, cleaning up the public right-of-way," said Nancy Kuhn with Denver Public Works. "So trash, litter, but we also run into things such as human waste and needles, so we have a contractor that helps us handle bio-hazards that we find."

Kuhn says the contractor has been helping public works on a regular basis, and not simply during so-called homeless sweeps.

"We're allowing people experiencing homelessness to store items with us that they may not be able to carry around. So we go into an area, and we can say hey do you want to put that in storage? And they get a claim check, and can come pick that up."

Kuhn says right now, that contractor is holding on to roughly 40 recycling bins worth of unclaimed belongings.

The sweeps have been a controversial topic over the past few years, as police and public works clear out homeless camps in the RiNo District.

"They're basically move along orders, we don't want you here," said Benjamin Dunning, the organizer of Denver Homeless Outloud, a homeless advocacy group pushing for more affordable housing.

He says the hundreds of thousands being spent on sweeps and cleanups, could be spent elsewhere.

"The money could be put better places, it's as simple as that. How many people can we put up in an apartment complex for that?" Dunning said.

Dunning says a large portion of Denver's homeless population works odd hours, and can't sleep in the city shelters.

He says the only solution to keeping them off the streets, is affordable housing.

"A lot of large cities that are going through fast development curves are experiencing this. We need, as a city, to learn how to live with these people who are stuck outside because of our housing issue."

The contract with CES expired in October, and Public Works has since hired a new company to help with the cleanups.

They plan on continuing to contract-out for the cleanups, until the camps no longer exist.

"As long as we have a public health issue or risk that's occurring on our public right-of-way, on our sidewalks downtown, we're going to continue to go out there and clean it up."

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