The team will work amongst homeless encampments in Denver
Denver’s Department of Public Safety is currently hiring members of the “Street Enforcement Team.” Comprised entirely of unarmed civilians, the team will provide crisis intervention services to Denver’s homeless population, in addition to issuing citations for City ordinance violations.
According to the Denver Voice—the team will enforce City of Denver ordinances including but not limited to “unauthorized camping, trespassing, urinating or defecating in public, and possession and consumption of marijuana.” Members of the team will be required to have “one (1) year of experience in regulation compliance, enforcement, safety, community outreach, customer service or similar experience,” according to a listing for the position. The job listing showed that members will earn $18.94–$28.41.
The Street Enforcement Team will join already well-established alternative response initiatives—most notably the Early Intervention Team (EIT). Founded in late 2020 by Mayor Michael Hancock, the Early Intervention Team works separately from uniformed police officers to provide housing resources, medical care, and drug addiction treatment to Denver’s homeless population. In addition, the EIT has begun working via Denver’s 311 phone line, rather than 911, to dispatch calls concerning Denver’s unhoused population directly to the non-law enforcement EIT.
Despite the successes of the ongoing EIT and 311 projects, the Street Enforcement Team’s orientation towards ordinance rather than outreach has been a cause for concern amongst Denver’s independent homelessness outreach groups.
“I certainly have some hesitations about what this will result in,” said Cathy Alderman, the Chief Communications and Public Policy Officer for Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. “My fear is, without the proper training, this (the Street Enforcement Team) could cause conflict—unnecessary conflict on the streets.”
Founded in 1984, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) is one of many non-profits across Denver working to provide community outreach services and housing resources to those affected by homelessness. The CCH has worked tirelessly, providing emergency housing to over 3,000 Denver residents in 2020 alone. Still, with an estimated 6,104 people experiencing homelessness in the City of Denver, there’s only so much the CCH and other groups like it can do.
With what seems to be a prerogative for issuing citations to Denver’s homeless population though, the Street Enforcement Team could create more problems than solutions. According to Alderman, “I don’t think it’s going to be helpful if these individuals are sent out to tell people to move along… Police are already doing that, Public Health representatives and park rangers are already doing that, and it’s not solving anything.”
Overall, the City of Denver is making some effort to support and house the city’s homeless population. That includes supporting the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and other organizations like it: “We’ve received funding from the city for over eight years, and over the course of the last year, we received funding to engage in outreach in large encampments.” The question now, of whether or not a move towards “street enforcement” rather than community outreach is an effective solution, remains to be seen.