By Audra Streetman

DENVER (CBS4) – The Denver City Attorney’s Office filed an emergency motion on Tuesday aimed at blocking a federal judge’s ruling regarding homeless cleanups in the city. On Monday, U.S. District Judge William J. Martinez partially granted a motion for preliminary injunction in the class action lawsuit filed by Homeless Out Loud against the city.

Judge Martinez ruled Denver officials must provide at least 7 days advance written notice prior to the cleanup of a homeless encampment. The city can provide as little as 48 hours notice of a cleanup if public health officials determine there are pressing safety risks. This determination must be made in writing and published online prior to the cleanup.

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(credit: CBS)

Denver’s emergency motion for stay was filed with the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and says, in part:

“If Denver is prohibited from making decisions related to encampments when significant public health, environmental, and/or safety risks are found—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic—all Denver’s residents, including people experiencing homelessness, could be placed at grave risk of significant and irreparable harm. The district court’s Order prevents Denver’s departments from quickly addressing significant and imminent public health, environmental, and safety conditions found in encampments. And the decision also removes DDPHE’s ability to quickly act to stop the spread of disease and the continuous deterioration of public health, environmental, and safety conditions.”

The complaint filed in October alleges the homeless cleanups in Denver violate federal and state law. Homeless Out Loud claims the city provided insufficient notice before seizing property belonging to people experiencing homelessness without due process.

“Defendants’ procedures for providing notice of a DDPHE area restriction did not afford homeless individuals sufficient time to remove their property from designated areas such that they might avoid seizure,” stated Judge Martinez in his ruling.

The complaint also claims the city has a political motive for providing insufficient notice of cleanups in order to prevent protests. Homeless Out Loud argues the displacement forces people experiencing homelessness into congregate shelters, which could increase the risk of contracting COVID-19.

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Denver city officials argue that cleanups were ordered when encampments grew during the pandemic, prompting “significant health concerns.” These health concerns include human waste, hundreds of needles collected during cleanups and a rat infestation that officials claim was the worst in Denver’s recent history.

In addition to COVID-19, Denver health officials also report multiple outbreaks of contagious diseases at the encampments, including trench fever, hepatitis A and shigellosis.

(credit: CBS)

Denver officials claim members of an encampment in Lincoln Park dismantled security cameras, street lighting and the sprinkler system. Officials also cite a fatal shooting in Lincoln Park on July 23 and a homicide near the South Platte encampment.

Attorney Andy McNulty, who represents Homeless Out Loud, had asked the judge to stop the cleanups and prohibit the city from discarding or destroying unabandoned property. McNulty issued the following statement to CBS4:

“A federal judge stated that Denver violated the constitution by failing to provide notice before sweeping our unhoused neighbors, not because of public health concerns, but because they did not want people to show up to watch the inhumane evictions. Denver’s actions resulted in the casual and callous destruction of the only possessions of some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Plain and simple, Denver violated the constitutional rights of an entire population of our city because it did not want folks to show up to protest and bear witness to the cruelty of the sweeps.”

The city of Denver provided the following statement to CBS4 in response to the judge’s ruling:

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“[The ruling] dangerously ties the hands of city officials and prevents us from acting swiftly in the case of a public health or safety emergency or significant environmental impacts, which we unfortunately see with some frequency in large encampments. With respect to the three encampment closures cited in this case, DDPHE issued area restrictions to address imminent and substantial public health hazards…. Our goal is always to connect our unhoused neighbors with shelter, housing, services, treatment and care while also balancing that with our chartered responsibility to protect the public, including people who live in encampments, from the hazards that these encampments pose.”

Audra Streetman