“Homeless Mike” Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman goes undercover to stay on the streets and sleep with the homeless on the sidewalks – CBS Denver
AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman added a new title to his résumé last week – Homeless Mike. The Marine Corps veteran and former treasurer, secretary of state and congressman was undercover for a week to live among the homeless in Aurora and Denver.
His goal was to find out why the problem of homelessness was increasing and what he could do as mayor to address it. He wanted answers, not from proponents who might have plans, but from homeless people themselves. So he became one of them and took a week off to do it.
“I’ll just text you regularly,” he told CBS4 policy specialist Shaun Boyd as he set off the day after Christmas with a backpack and hat, mask (he signed COVID-19 in November) and military clothing . He had no money, no food and no protection.
“This week is spent on the street. … Because of my military background, I’ve spent a lot of time outside in pretty harsh conditions so I know what my tolerance is. “
“What’s your story when you go in there?” Asked Boyd. “Are you Mike?”
“I’m a homeless veteran,” he replied. “Mike is fine. I have ID with me in case I get injured. “
“Be sure,” Boyd told him.
For seven days and nights, Coffman stayed in shelters and camps, sleeping under a tarp in temperatures that plummeted into teenage years. CBS4 caught up with him at times and shot videos remotely.
“I think that’s a really tough problem,” he said to Boyd before leaving. “And I don’t think a lot of policymakers like me understand that. … I think there are so many questions – where is your income? How do they exist? And what is the profile of people in homeless camps? “
The answers would surprise him.
The camps, he says, are made up of hardcore drug users who have formed communities with even unofficial leaders.
“These camps are not a product of the economy or of COVID. They are not a product of rental prices or housing. You’re part of a drug culture. “
This culture, he says, mostly affects young adults who openly use meth, heroin, and cocaine, while many well-meaning people provide money, food, and other necessities to feed them.
“It’s just amazing that people want to help and that they think this cause is a just cause,” said Coffman. “I remember one of the first people I met in a camp. I asked, “Where do you get food from?” He was really at a loss. He says, “People bring us food.” And at first I almost didn’t believe it. “
Then, he says, he kept seeing it.
“I think the first car had a homemade chicken noodle soup which was amazing and banana and nut bread which was also amazing. And 30 minutes later another car arrives with bread, cupcakes for dessert, everything homemade and a bottle of water. … I cannot imagine that you know all the dimensions of what these camps are about. “
“This is not about a lack of protection?” Boyd asked him.
“It really isn’t,” he replied. “It’s a lifestyle choice and it’s a very dangerous lifestyle choice.”
While the accommodations he stayed in do not allow drug use, most of them are not looking for residents either. He sent CBS4 a picture of hypodermic needles on the floor of a bunk below him. Those at the shelter, he says, are usually older, given handicap exams, and have no plan to support themselves.
“The broadest category is drug and alcohol problems, where people settle into this type of lifestyle and decades go by and they don’t move on.”
In some ways, he says, dependence becomes easier than self-sufficiency for those who rely on the aurora huts.
“I work in the Day Resource Center. I can watch TV all day, eat a lot, and then there’s a van that takes me to the overnight home in the evening, and then there’s a van that picks me up in the morning and takes me back to the daily resource center. “
Coffman says many of those he has met are from another state, and some of them have mental health problems that make it impossible for them to have stable jobs. Most of them, he says, can work, but not.
“I think this is a growing problem in America and we have to deal with it and be honest. It is an extraordinary challenge and it will take another vision to solve it. It won’t do the same anymore. It won’t spend more money to do the same. “
A week before Coffman left, he received a call from Denver Mayor Michael Hancock about working on a metro-wide approach to tackling homelessness. Read more about what changes Coffman believes are needed.