Apr 20, 2023 - News

Audit finds Denver isn't tracking homeless encampments costs

A man stands at an encampment near 20th and Curtis during an attempted cleanup by the city on April 13, 2023. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

An audit on Denver's response to homeless encampments found the city is not tracking millions of dollars spent.

Driving the news: The 103-page report released Thursday was compiled by the city's Auditor's Office.

  • It found the city's lack of tracking — including money spent on the controversial sweeps — poses transparency concerns since Denver doesn't know how much or how effective the spending is.

By the numbers: The report estimated $13.7 million has been spent on homeless encampment response from Jan. 2019 to June 2022. Response costs include clean up, outreach and enforcement.

  • The auditor's office contacted 10 agencies to come up with the estimate.

Yes, but: The report warns the actual amount is likely higher.

Between the lines: It does not include expenses from Denver police, one of the 10 responding agencies, which did not provide information to the office and said it does not track expenses related to encampments.

  • Only four city agencies — public health, the fire department, transportation and infrastructure, and parks and recreation — gave the office expenses for the entire three-and-half-year period.
  • Departments including the mayor's office, city attorney, human services, public safety and housing stability did not provide partial data.

What they're saying: "I just think the program needs a lot more structure to it — where it would have a budget and a budget makes it pretty easy to track expenses," Auditor Timothy O'Brien said during a public meeting discussing the findings on Thursday.

  • "We probably could have done a better job responding to the requests for information for this audit," Evan Dreyer, the mayor's deputy chief of staff, said during Thursday's meeting.
  • Dreyer said he thinks the estimate from the auditor's office is "right."

The other side: Advocates for people experiencing homelessness call sweeps "traumatic displacement," saying they often push unhoused people into new areas without providing support and forcing people to lose belongings.

  • A study released earlier this month by a University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus doctor and associate professor suggests the homeless sweeps are shortening life expectancy among the unhoused.

Zoom in: The audit — the first of its kind to focus on encampments response — makes multiple recommendations on how the city can improve.

  • It includes working with the 10 responding agencies to determine how expenses should be calculated and develop a method to track them, which the city has agreed to meet.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Denver stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more