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On October 19, during a study session of the Aurora City Council, Mayor Mike Coffman announced that he was considering a camping ban ordinance for Aurora.
“Yes, I’m working on a camping ban proposal,” Coffman said after being questioned about his October 12 tweet noting that the city would soon be opening a warehouse-style homeless shelter and he was hoping Aurora would be more aggressive can about the closure of these camps’ as soon as there is shelter.
Unlike Denver, Aurora doesn’t have a ban on camping on the books. Introducing such an ordinance would allow the city to more easily scatter the homeless with tents or sleeping bags to protect themselves outdoors. It could also open the city to the kind of criticism that was voiced in Denver for the 2012 ban.
So far, however, around half of Aurora city council members say they are either definitely against or likely against any type of camping ban.
“I’m just really surprised that this is something anyone would seriously think about right now, just based on the cost and the bad press and the fact that it actually doesn’t do anything in Denver,” says Councilor Juan Marcano. who told the study session that he does not believe that “Hancock’s legacy is something we must emulate here in Aurora.”
Councilor Alison Coombs describes the Denver camping ban as “cruel” and “inhuman” and a failure. “I think it’s a policy that criminalizes homelessness and poverty even further than those things are already criminalized,” she says.
Member Allison Hiltz agrees that such policies are “criminalized”; Crystal Murillo says such bans are responsible for the “villainy” of homelessness. Both say they would oppose any proposal to ban Aurora camping.
And while Mayor Pro Tem Nicole Johnston says she needs to see the proposal before confirming her stance, notes that she doesn’t like camping bans and is likely a no.
Councilors Dave Gruber, Francoise Bergan and Marsha Berzins all say they want to consider the proposal before making a commitment, despite all of them recognizing that homelessness is on the rise in Aurora.
“I am concerned about the increasing number of camps in the city. We have to do something,” says Gruber.
Bergan added, “I know local residents and businesses are very concerned and frustrated with the homeless camps. Therefore, from a public safety and hygiene perspective, this needs to be addressed soon. Our top priority for local residents as a city is public safety. We must too take into account the negative impact on our business as they are the lifeblood of our revenue. “
Berzins fears that bearings can be harmful to the people who live in them. “Our residents are also concerned about camps scattered around the city because they have unsanitary conditions and could be dangerous to our homeless population,” she says. But she refuses to say how she would vote on a camping ban, stating that councilors “are not allowed to say in advance how.” [they] would vote on a proposal. “
Members Curtis Gardner and Angela Lawson both say they feel uncomfortable commenting on the idea of a camping ban without seeing the actual proposal.
Coffman declined an interview request from a city spokesman: “As there is still no proposal, the mayor currently has nothing to add other than what he has already posted on social media,” says Abraham Morales.
Byron Shaw, a street outreach employee with Mile High Behavioral Healthcare who visits camps in Aurora to provide services, said the mayor’s social media announcement surprised him and other service providers.
“Right now it’s all about what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has to say. Their stance, as I understand them, is that we shouldn’t encourage camps to move. In the interests of COVID and social distancing, this will help us told campers to stay seated, “said Shaw, who feared a camping ban and increased enforcement to put people in shelters could interfere with social distancing efforts
City officials are currently negotiating with a warehouse owner about a room Aurora could rent as a homeless shelter for the winter. The city has an overnight accommodation capacity of around 100 people, well below the 427 homeless people counted in Aurora as part of a point-in-time survey in January.
Currently, after landowners inform authorities that people are entering their property, the city can issue evacuation orders. Aurora is the landowner of the city’s parks and typically offers seven days’ notice to those who camp there.
However, Shaw says he and other outreach workers have been directed to leave most of the camps in place unless a landowner complains. A camping ban would give Aurora more power to disperse camps, which Shaw says have increased significantly in the city over the past year.
Homeless attorneys and service providers generally view the Denver camping ban as ineffective in getting people into apartments or on a path towards housing, as many of those told to move with them simply relocate their tents.
Rather than banning camping, Marcano and Coombs suggest that the city should consider establishing safe campsites as a temporary solution to ensure people can live in a clean and safe environment, without being in a park or on any other public or public place private land to be owned.
The city of Denver is currently working on establishing safe campsites across the city, although this project has encountered several obstacles.
Even so, Shaw agrees that safe campsites would be a good idea for Aurora. “Either that or they have to start building low-income homes in a hurry,” he says. “Otherwise it won’t get better and it will likely get worse.”
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh works for Westword where he covers a range of topics including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves talking about New York sports.