DENVER (KDVR) — Responding to homeless encampments in Denver is estimated by the city auditor to have cost more than $13 million between 2019 and 2022. That total is likely higher because it does not include expenses from the Denver Police Department.
The office is calling for better accounting by city agencies as leaders scramble to come up with solutions. City officials and community groups say a solution will require all fronts to work together.
“I think we need affordable housing options,” one Denver resident said.
Another Denverite urged city leaders to find a solution soon for the sake of the unhoused and residents in the downtown area.
“Figure out: How do you manage society in a way that you don’t have people living in tents?” he said.
Audit tracked spending on encampments
City Auditor Timothy O’Brien told FOX31 that other factors driving homelessness include unemployment, mental health issues and drug addiction.
Carefully tracking the expense involved in providing resources, conducting sweeps and cleaning up encampments is a crucial part of finding a solution and serving taxpayers.
“This is their government. They have every right to know how their tax dollars are being spent” O’Brien said.
The audit team found more than $13 million in reported spending for 10 agencies from January 2019 through June 2022.
Recommendations include better tracking of encampment-related spending, doing more to provide the unhoused with fair access to stored belongings and proper staffing and organization.
“They need to have more structure to it, needs to be at its own discreet office that has a budget, that’s one way to keep track of expenditures,” O’Brien said.
Denver, mayor respond to encampment audit
In response, Denver has agreed to make changes to how it oversees and tracks its response to unauthorized encampments, although a statement released Thursday said many of the recommendations are already in place, like the Unauthorized Encampment Response Program launched last summer.
Mayor Michael B. Hancock released the following statement on Thursday: “Chronic unsheltered homelessness is the most complex issue any city will manage, and we appreciate the audit team, over the course of many months, taking a hard look at how our city is approaching the challenge of encampments. More than a housing crisis, it’s a situation made more complicated amid a nationwide drug crisis, mental health crisis and continued fallout from the pandemic on our most vulnerable residents and communities.”
The city has also budgeted $250 million to reduce homelessness and increase housing, provided a place to live for nearly 15,000 unhoused residents and invested in 9,000 affordable housing units over the past 12 years.
O’Brien told FOX31 a follow-up audit will be conducted in 2024.