Mayor Mike Coffman wants camping in Aurora to be banned despite the backlash from city council and homeless lawyers

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman is pushing ahead with his proposed camping ban despite criticism from members of Aurora City Council and advocates of housing and homelessness.

Coffman posted the new ordinance on Twitter and Facebook Thursday morning, but said he would not present it to the city council’s housing, redevelopment and neighborhood services committee until June.

Aurora has already worked to combat homelessness. A few years ago, she set part of her marijuana tax credit for homeless programs, joined a regional coalition, and hosted an open house on alternative housing for community members on Wednesday.

“It just seemed premature to get this out of the way before all of these things happened, and like another political stunt than actually promoting good politics,” said Nicole Johnston, Aurora Councilor, Ward II and Housing Chair , Redevelopment and Neighborhood Services Committee.

As of the last point in time in the city, 427 people were homeless in 2020. However, experts estimate the number could drop by 20 percent or more. According to Jessica Prosser, director of housing and community services for the city, Aurora has 150 emergency shelters and an additional 100 beds like it did in winter.

Coffman’s ordinance says people living in camps can only be evicted if there are housing alternatives, but homeless proponents and experts are asking why the ban came before housing solutions.

“I think it would be wonderful if we had places that people could go to. I think our out-of-house neighbors would like a place to go, but I think this is a pretty ignorant comment and a pretty ignorant way to get laws passed in our city, “said Kathleen Van Voorhis, Director of Housing Justice for the Colorado Interfaith Alliance. “We have no protective beds. We don’t have the resources. “

Opponents say a camping ban comes after the pandemic exacerbated the housing crisis and would reverse progress on the road to police reform.

The city is already clearing up camps. From July 2020 until now, city crews or contractors have cleaned up 29 warehouses. In addition, the Colorado Department of Transportation did the same about six times over the past year to the warehouses along the Interstate 225 corridor, Prosser said.

The police are not currently involved in the cleanup, but that could change with the new regulation.

“I’ve been involved in many police reforms and improved our relationships with the Aurora Police Department community and our community, including our unhodged neighbors,” said Councilor Johnston. “This brings us back to all of the great strides we are making with the Aurora Police Department and our community. And it puts them in a position to arrest and play more of a combative role that we were really, really trying to change. ”

Johnston, Van Voorhis and others say the biggest problem with the new regulation is the order in which it tries to tackle homelessness. Putting a ban ahead of a major housing initiative will have a detrimental impact on the undocumented and copy the mistakes of cities like Denver, it said.

“Before COVID hit, we already had a real estate crisis. We’ve had a lot of people on the streets before, but in four to five months the number of homeless people on the street increased by 40 percent, ”said Benjamin Dunning, organizer and co-founder of Denver Homeless Out Loud. “The solution to homelessness is housing. If we don’t build it, things will get worse. If we don’t give access to people who can’t afford housing in the market, we will have more people on the streets. As simple as that. ”

Coffman is confident Aurora will receive funding from the federal US rescue plan, some of which will go to infrastructure to tackle homelessness.

“In other words, build a shelter, the infrastructure for safe campsites or tiny houses or pallet houses,” he said.

Hart Van Denburg / CPR NewsA man pulls a cart with belongings as Denver city workers clear a homeless camp on 13th Avenue and Elations Street behind a police-built fence to keep protesters away on Tuesday, December 8, 2020.

Some point to the controversial Denver camping ban as a cautionary story.

Denver put its camping ban almost a decade ago, and it has been very controversial and highly controversial. Dunning says he remembers that when he lived on the streets, the city of Denver made the same promises about housing alternatives.

“It didn’t do any of them,” he said. Then he helped start Homeless Out Loud and they published their first report. They asked the homeless community what they were experiencing and what they recommended for change.

“Lifting or changing the ban to designate a safe, well-lit outdoor area in Denver where the homeless can sleep, protect themselves, and have access to bathrooms and water,” he said. “That was 10 years ago, that was before COVID. We need about 50 of these places right now. And Denver only found one way to approve two. ”

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