Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman said he hopes to get some insight into the problem. Local leaders call his actions a “publicity stunt”.
AURORA, Colorado – Local leaders, including one who has been homeless for years, refer to Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman’s decision to spend a week undercover as a homeless person a “publicity stunt.”
“I’m pretty angry about it. He should officially apologize publicly,” said John Stone, a member of the Englewood council as a whole. “What I want to do with it is that we come together and make something productive out of it. It got a lot of attention, sure, that was the intention.”
Stone said he was homeless between the ages of 16 and 21 and the only way he could escape is for someone to give him the opportunity to finally earn enough to afford an apartment.
In December, Coffman lived on the streets of Denver and Aurora for a week, posing as a homeless man with no money or food.
He hoped the experience would help him better understand the homelessness issue before a scheduled meeting with other local leaders, including the mayors of Denver and Lakewood.
“I didn’t feel very comfortable that I was familiar with the problem,” Coffman said during an interview with 9NEWS on Wednesday. “And so it kind of attracted me: ‘What if you were homeless for a week, would you have a better understanding of the problem?’ And I think so. “
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Local leaders said Coffman “mimicked homelessness”, arguing that while he had good intentions, his actions failed.
“He accidentally added stigma,” said Eva Henry, an Adams County commissioner who said she was once a young mother who lived from paycheck to paycheck. “You can’t just dip your toe in and out of poverty.”
Opponents also said that a regional approach to homelessness needs to involve more than just the mayors of three cities to be effective. They are demanding that homeless lawyers and city council members be involved in the effort.
They also argued that Coffman “reduced people’s experiences of homelessness and drugs to lifestyle choices”. Coffman said some people did not want to go to shelters and preferred to stay in camps but stopped calling their situation a choice.
“”[There were] People who didn’t want to – were in camps – didn’t want to be in the shelter, “he said.” The thought of being subject to rules, knowing what to do, not having access to drugs or alcohol ad libitum, that is a choice they made there. But it would be hard to argue that homelessness is a choice. “
Coffman said his time on the street was physically demanding, but during that time he wanted to speak to as many as possible to see how they got out on the streets and to see what plans they had for the future.
Proponents argued that Coffman was just scratching the surface and not asking the right questions in order to tackle the profound challenges the homeless face.
“To go out and say that because he spent a week on the street with them, knowing that by the eighth day he would be in his warm bed and asking, ‘Why are you here and not in a shelter? ‘ and they say, “Because I wanted to do drugs,” is doing nothing to get to the heart of the problem, “said Shelley McKittrick, who gave up her role as the first homelessness program director in the city of Aurora in September.
“He didn’t ask these people, ‘Tell me about your life, what happened that you ended up here?'” She added. “If he had asked that, he would have stories of childhood trauma. He would have heard stories of war trauma. He would have heard stories of economic trauma. He would have heard all kinds of stories that said, ‘That’s not how I am I was expecting mine Life fails. ‘”
Coffman said he was surprised at the number of people he encountered who appeared to have mental health problems.
“We need to figure out how to approach the mental health component,” he said. “We have to provide the treatment, we have to provide the professional training, we have to provide this program[s] available, but when people with disabilities who are not ready – even if they have a drug problem – are not ready to use these programs, at the end of the day there is simply nothing we can do for them. “
Coffman said economic problems are a contributing factor to homelessness, but most of the people he encountered were on the street because of mental health problems or drug and alcohol abuse.
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“I was surprised at the drug use I saw in the camps, not marijuana but crystal meth, crack, cocaine, heroin, very surprised about that,” he said.
Coffman said he spent time in three Denver camps and they pose a threat to public health and safety.
“We can clearly do more to help people and get them into stable housing,” said Coffman. “What doesn’t work is to spend more money on it without changing behavior. People never will.” [move] forward with their life. You don’t want to be in a public policy situation where you allow for really bad, destructive behavior. “
Homeless proponents argued that a week outside and in shelters “gives him nothing” [Coffman] Insight into the very real trauma that people experience before and during their time on the street. “
“We don’t need tours on homelessness. We need people who will listen to those who have been speaking on this topic for years and decades,” said Vinnie Cervantes, director of the Denver Alliance for Street Health Response.
Speakers, supporters and attendees at Thursday’s press conference included:
- Councilor Crystal Murillo, Aurora Ward I.
- Councilor Nicole Johnston, Aurora Ward II
- Councilor Juan Marcano, Aurora Ward IV
- Councilor Alison Coombs, Aurora Ward V.
- Councilor Allison Hiltz, Aurora At-Large
- Councilor John Stone, Englewood At-Large
- Councilor Sharon Tessier, Broomfield Town and County, District 2
- Mayor Pro-Tempore Guyleen Castriotta, Town and County of Broomfield
- Councilor Candi CdeBaca, Denver City and County, District 9
- Commissioner Emma Pinter, Adams County District 3
- Commissioner Nancy Jackson, District 4 of Arapahoe County
- Elected representative Iman Jodeh, HD 41
- Demetria Skipper, Ministry of Living Water
- Shelley McKittrick, Program Development and Operations Consultant, Colorado Village Collaborative (CVC)
- Vinnie Cervantes, Director, DASHR
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