AURORA, Colorado – Aurora leaders and lawyers for people affected by homelessness criticized Mayor Mike Coffman, who recently spent a week on the streets, and told a local news channel that some people affected by homelessness were making a “choice of lifestyle “hit, sharp.
Aurora Councilor Crystal Murillo called Coffman’s experience a “publicity stunt” and said it could lead to “harmful, horrific” measures.
Councilor Alison Coombs said Coffman “is not listening to the experts on the matter” and is undermining efforts to help the homeless.
Shelley McKitrrick, Aurora’s former homelessness program director, called Coffman’s week on the street – and his subsequent interview with CBS4 – a “flat, performative exercise.”
“That’s what happens when you ignore lawyers,” McKittrick said of the mayor.
The CBS4 story aired Tuesday night and met with criticism of Coffman, particularly his comments on some homeless people who chose a “lifestyle” of living on the streets rather than staying in shelters. Coffman also told CBS4 that most people affected by homelessness can, but not, work, and that shelters can in some ways lead to more addiction.
Coffman released a statement on Wednesday in response to criticism, saying his comment on “lifestyle choices” was “the difference between those staying in the shelters and those staying in the camps”.
“I didn’t mean to say that homelessness is itself a choice,” Coffman wrote in the statement.
McKittrick, who recently quit the city’s homelessness program, said Coffman should have spoken more deeply with the people he met on the street and that he probably should have learned more about why they are homeless.
“Trauma causes homelessness,” McKittrick said, and many people who are homeless have experienced forms of trauma in their lifetime.
Denver councilor Candi CdeBaca, who has harshly criticized Mayor Michael Hancock’s homelessness policies, also joined Aurora leaders Thursday, saying Coffman’s “stunt is disgusting and disappointing”.
CdeBaca called for housing needs to be met to address the problem of homelessness in Denver and Aurora.
“The only solution to homelessness is housing,” said CdeBaca.