Should the city dump unattended property belonging to homeless people?

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DENVER — The issue of homelessness is one of the top issues facing Denver. Drive around downtown streets or parks, and you’ll see groups, camps, and a whole lot of stuff. But a recent video of Denver Public Works employees throwing out a cart full of belongings raised the question: what is property and what deserves to be discarded?

The video, taken on Monday, shows multiple city employees lifting a shopping cart into the back of a garbage truck, crushing the cart and items, and driving off. It was filmed in front of the Samaritan House off of Lawrence and Broadway downtown. 

"This is the most fundamental violation of basic constitutional rights that is even conceivable and its happening right here in Denver right now,” attorney Jason Flores-Williams said. 

The Denver Department of Public Works responded in a statement saying, in part, that the cart was blocking the right of way and contained “feces, needles and sharp containers, and homemade weapons.” Citing a safety risk and as per policy, the workers put the items in the trash. 

That’s one example. But what about the rest of the piles of things left unattended on public sidewalks or in public parks?

If they are deemed a safety hazard, the city has claimed it has a right to remove them. If it is litter or garbage left behind, then it is also picked up. The line of what is unattended personal property and what deserves to be discarded becomes more difficult to find. 

“They’re picking on people with absolutely no voice,” attorney Jason Flores-Williams said, adding that this is the same as police coming into your home and burning your house down.

Denver Public Works cited the law. “City Ordinance, DRMC Sec. 49-246, public streets, alleys, sidewalks, and other public spaces must remain free of all unauthorized encumbrances and obstruction.”

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