Burned by sweeps controversy, Denver plans more transparency on homeless donation spending

Denver’s new proposed budget splits the Homeless Donation Fund in two to keep donor money separate from other sources.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

City officials earlier this year were forced to explain why $76,000 from the “Homeless Donation Fund” was going to be used to clear homeless people from sidewalks.

Now they’ve announced a change that should keep that from happening again.

At the time, Mayor Michael Hancock described it as an “accounting error.”

The error was that for 10 years the city had been mingling together donations from everyday citizens — you know, the kind you give in little boxes at the airport — with money from the federal government in the so-called Homeless Donation Fund.

Basically, the Homeless Donation Fund was badly misnamed. In 2015, only about 3 percent of the money that went into the fund, or about $40,000, came from personal donations. The rest consisted of federal support for local homeless services. (A lot of personally donated money went to a different, non-mixed fund.)

So, the “donation” fund became a kind of general-purpose source of money for stuff having to do with homelessness, including sweep operations. That’s legal, according to the city, but it’s really not a good look.

After it was reported that the donation fund was paying for a sweep, the city reversed course, having the public works department pay instead.

Police arrest three individuals on the Cherry Creek Trail. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  police; cherry creek trail; denver; kevinjbeaty; colorado; denverite; crime;

Police arrest three individuals on the Cherry Creek Trail. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Here’s what changed lately:

“What we realized is that it doesn’t really do donors justice, that we can’t really say specifically how donations are being used,” said Julie Smith, spokeswoman for Denver Human Services.

In response, the city’s new proposed budget splits that Homeless Donation Fund in two. Donations now would be housed in their own fund, unbothered by other sources of money, according to the budget document.

There still isn’t much of a limit on how those donations can be spent, as long as it has to do with homelessness, but I’d bet they don’t end up anywhere near sweeps in the future. Let me know if you hear otherwise.

Email me at akenney@denverite.com or find me on Twitter @AndyKnny.

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