Everyone who thinks it’s a sweet idea for throngs of people without homes to camp on highway exit ramps, behind grocery stores and in your favorite park, call Mayor Mike Coffman.
No one? Not even people without homes like the idea of endless chaotic encampments?
Of course not.
Despite the mayor’s persistent pandering to the grumpy Trump cult and some far-right media, not even those without homes think tents on sidewalks all over the city are a good time — for anyone.
Coffman has taken a recent interest in the generations-long problem of homelessness. He even partook in a TV news segment in January, pretending to be homeless for a week. Recently, Coffman has been quick to jump on fringe-right radio talk shows, inspire a Colorado Springs newspaper and use the Twitters to opine about the crisis of homelessness. Maybe it’s been that tight media schedule that’s prevented him from talking to The Sentinel.
The story he tells to other select media, however, has been consistent. Coffman’s impression of the problem is having homeless people where you have to see them and even step over them in very public places.
He, and so many like him, fail to understand that people camping under the bridge on I-225 and Parker Road are the symptom. The problem of homelessness is as vast, complicated and difficult as the nation’s immigration quagmire. Barreling down Colfax with a homeless ban and little else is Coffman’s equivalent of building a wall on the Mexican border to solve the immigration problem.
After obtaining his TV-certificate in homelessness in January, he announced he’d unraveled the mystery of the conundrum. Homeless people choose sidewalk camping so they can accommodate their drug addictions instead of having to get jobs and adult.
Ban sidewalk and public camping, and offer shelter to those willing to behave approvingly, Coffman said on Twitter. So convinced that this oft-failed notion was a winning solution, he wrote up some legislation, also releasing that on Twitter.
To his credit, Coffman stipulates that homeless camping bans have had a tough time in courts because it turns out there’s no crime in being homeless. Annoying judges keep finding that people without homes chased out of their tents can and do die if they can’t sleep and sit somewhere.
Apparently, that’s a risk Coffman’s willing to take.
The trick to successfully kicking people off of medians and from behind grocery stores, Coffman says, is telling them they have to stay in shelters. And if the shelters are full or won’t let drug users in? Easy. Quit doing drugs and trade your addiction for a job. No doubt the city can gin up a pamphlet or something to help “these people” get from heroin addiction to filling out job applications.
This is the stuff that eye rolls are made of for those who are homeless and for those who have dealt with homeless people for years, not hours. What Coffman didn’t learn during his week at Homeless U was how unrealistic his scheme really is.
Drug addiction is a bone-crushing scourge to get past even if you are wealthy, well-insured and in the hands of the best in the business and have nothing to distract you from unhitching “the beast.” Broke, homeless, unwanted, mentally ill, ravaged by meth and heroin and not even able to produce or get an ID to even begin a direction to a better life?
Please. Peddle your picayune plan with fans in Colorado Springs, Mayor, the adults are talking now.
The rest of the city has gathered a virtual army of staff, experts and others who have dug deep into what was a seemingly unsolvable problem even before the pandemic.
As it turns out, it’s not impossible to make big changes resulting in huge improvements in the lives of homeless people and for the entire community. It won’t be easy. And it won’t be cheap. But it won’t be impossible.
Solving this problem demands honesty, science and dedication to reality. Led by a group of city officials, an Aurora group knows that a vast number of homeless people are not drug addicts and they don’t live in tents on Havana Street. They live in cars, often without you ever knowing it. They couch surf. They even sleep at work. The adults in the room know that the crushing cost of housing has everything to do with the problem. They know that you can’t wish away a heroin addiction, and that those hooked on meth and heroin would do anything not to be — except give it up.
The area’s dangerous and tragic homeless camps are filled with people who are mentally ill or unable to navigate a world that is taxing even for the privileged and the professional.
There are plans now to create a variety of communities in Aurora for people without homes. Places where they have access to bathrooms, desperately needed help and even safe places to enable their drug addiction while working on ways to end it. Some of these places might be in church parking lots with tents. Others could even be in open spaces or city facilities. They won’t be perfect.
But they can offer dignity, safety and a real chance to climb out of the worst thing that can happen to anyone.
Programs being investigated by Aurora teams are based on knowing that if you shoo people out of their sleeping bags under a viaduct, they’ll move someplace else. They’ll go to another median, a dark place in an alley or even further out of sight, like the greenbelt behind your house.
The camping ban? That comes after programs, shelters, communities and workable answers are in place, if it comes at all.
The problem of homelessness is one of the most onerous issues facing the region. Addressing it is a job for professionals, not politicians seeking social media clicks and TV spots. Aurora has no shortage of challenges to conquer, Coffman should seek out an issue he’s better qualified to address.
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