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Under homeless deal, Denver will give notice before seizures

DENVER — Denver will give homeless people notice before confiscating their belongings and make it easier for them to retrieve seized items under a proposed settlement of a federal class action lawsuit that challenged the way the growing city was clearing homeless encampments.

Under the deal announced Wednesday, the city will also provide 200 storage lockers for the homeless as well install more trash cans and two portable bathrooms in an area near its baseball stadium where homeless people gather. Needle disposal boxes would also be installed in at least three parks and the city will operate a mobile health unit to serve the homeless and people injecting drugs.

In the past, the city has said that clearing the encampments around the homeless shelters near Coors Field were necessary in order to clean them after finding human waste and needles.

Under the proposed deal, which still must still be approved by the City Council and a judge, the city would give at least seven days written notice of any large-scale cleanups and property removal and at least 48 hours’ notice of the removal of smaller amounts of property.

Exceptions will be made for emergency removals. Notices left on belongings will include an explanation that the items can be retrieved without cost or fear of arrest, the location and hours of the storage facility and a phone number to call with questions.

The deal recognizes that homeless people have due process rights like everyone else and will stop people from having gear like sleeping bags and blankets immediately taken from them for violating the city’s camping ban, the lead lawyer for the homeless, Jason Flores-Williams, said.

“It’s not a panacea but it is something that gives them a voice in their own city,” he said.

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

In a statement, Mayor Michael Hancock said the city must now focus on getting homeless people into housing and treatment services.

Maria Foscarinis, the executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, said the settlement is an important step forward for a city that it has criticized in the past for its treatment of the homeless but it is not enough.

“This is not solving the problem. It is making the problem a little less miserable for the people who have to live with it,” she said.

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