Denver, CO

Security costs $10.4 million at Denver homeless shelters

David Heitz

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The City of Denver will vote Monday whether to extend a contract with Veritas Security by $2.9 million for a total $10.4 million to keep Denver’s homeless shelters safe. The contract extends Veritas' services to the end of the year.

The company provides security at both congregant shelters like Salvation Army Crossroads and those near 48th and Colorado, as well as hotels and motels where people experiencing homelessness are being sheltered.

Security at homeless shelters has been sorely needed for many years. I experienced homelessness in Denver in 2019. I never saw any security at Salvation Army Crossroads or the city-owned shelter at 48th and Colorado. There were people hired to watch over things, but they were not trained security officers.

Fights at shelters were common. It would become a scary situation at Salvation Army Crossroads because everyone used to be packed tight in there, with most sleeping on a mat on the floor.

There also was no visible armed security at the city-owned 48th and Colorado Shelter, where drugs and fights also were rampant. The addition of security has greatly increased safety at the shelters, according to people I’ve spoken with experiencing homelessness.

But the security comes at a high price. At the Coliseum shelter, for example, it costs $48,738 per week. That is for 1,350 man-hours and includes supervisors.

Security officers receive sensitivity training

“All Securitas security personnel provide general customer service such as answering questions and providing directional assistance, assist with de-escalation amongst guests, monitor entrances/exits, and conduct observe and report protocols,” according to a city staff report. “By location, Securitas security personnel may also perform perimeter patrols, parking lot patrols and bag screening.”

People experiencing homelessness have stressed relationships with uniformed security officers, who usually are hired to shoo them off properties. There have been explosive fights between people experiencing homelessness and RTD security officers at Union Station.

But the security officers in the city-owned Denver shelters all have special training. “During initial onboarding, Securitas participated in a trauma-informed, person-centered training that was facilitated by operating partners, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless,” according to the city staff report. “This training is provided to all security officers throughout Colorado Coalition for the Homeless properties; with primary focus on the Five Guiding Principles of Trauma-Informed Care. These include safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness, and empowerment.

“This ensures the physical and emotional safety of an individual is addressed and allows opportunity to build rapport and trust. This model of training continues to be provided on an individual basis as new Securitas employees are onboarded to our sheltering efforts.”

Denver’s other security provider can’t do it alone

Securitas is not the only security company providing services at the shelters. “At this time, HSS, Inc. which is contracted to provide citywide facilities security services, is not able to staff the additional locations as requested,” according to the city staff report. “HSS, Inc. is actively recruiting and training to appropriately staff the citywide contract and stated they could not meet the city’s additional service needs.”

The lucrative security contracts are not being put out for bid. The city is not required to follow that policy because it is operating under emergency conditions due to COVID-19.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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