Aurora Councilmember Francoise Bergan, left, talks with Councilmembers Danielle Jurinsky, center, and City Manager Jim Twombly, right, during a city council meeting Feb. 28, 2022 at Aurora City Hall. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado
  • camping ban 2 2.28.22
  • Aurora Councilmember Francoise bergan, left, talks with Councilmembers Angela Lawson, seated left, Danielle Jurinsky, right, and City Manager Jim Twombly during a Feb. 28 city council meeting at Aurora City Hall.Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorad
  • Councilmembers Curtis Gardner, left, Danielle Jurinsky and Steve Sundberg sit on the dais during a Feb. 28 city council meeting at Aurora City Hall.Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado
  • Councilmembers Curtis Gardner, left, Danielle Jurinsky and Steve Sundberg sit on the dais during a Feb. 28 city council meeting at Aurora City Hall.Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado
  • Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman sits on the dais during a Feb. 28 city council meeting at Aurora City Hall.Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado
  • Councilmember Juan Marcano speaks remotely during a Feb. 28 city council meeting.Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Aurora City Council members voted narrowly late Monday night to ban unauthorized public camping, laying the groundwork for stricter enforcement targeting homeless campers.

It was the ban’s second wind after a split City Council effectively shelved it in August. On Monday, opponents redoubled their criticisms that the ban would be ineffective and cruel, while supporters insisted it would mitigate the public health problems associated with camps and even help connect homeless people with resources.

“The top priority of any local government should be public safety,” Councilmember Dustin Zvonek said. “This proposal is the one step that we can take as a local government to start to push some of those people who are in encampments, who’ve disassociated from society and from support, into a shelter situation.”

“Our current status quo is not working,” said Councilmember Curtis Gardner. “We need to do this. It’s one tool in the tool belt.”

Sponsored by Mayor Mike Coffman, the ban prohibits unauthorized camping on public and private land. Campers could be arrested or fined up to $2,650 if they refuse to leave a campsite after being given at least 72 hours to do so, and city-sanctioned shelter space would have to be available before a camp could be abated.

The city currently abates homeless encampments using a variety of laws and regulations. 

The new ban would codify rather than change the city’s policy on notice, consequences for not leaving a campsite and the requirement concerning the availability of shelter.

Like most cities, Aurora stepped back from enforcement at the onset of the pandemic.

Critics argued that the ban was little more than a repackaging of the city’s current strategy of abating campsites, and that the city was leaning into a dysfunctional status quo.

“It does not and will not do a damn thing to improve the quality of life for our residents,” Councilmember Juan Marcano said. “It is as cruel and inhumane as you can get. It does not change, materially, the living conditions for folks in our city, housed and unhoused alike.”

Marcano moved unsuccessfully for the item to be tabled indefinitely and for the city to pay for an alternative housing-first solution. Council members voted 6-4 along party lines to reject Marcano’s proposal, with Marcano and councilmembers Alison Coombs, Ruben Medina and Crystal Murillo in favor.

Marcano also tried and failed to rally support to amend Coffman’s proposal in several ways. Members voted on the same 6-4 split to reject his amendments, which would have included extending the notice period to seven days, allowing police to detain but not arrest campers who refused to leave a campsite, removing vehicle camping from the ban and other changes.

An amendment by Murillo that would have made the ban sunset after one year and require staffers to prepare an annual report on implementation was a mixed success. Council members again voted 6-4 along party lines to strike down the sunset clause but voted unanimously to introduce the reporting requirement.

Murillo also received the tentative support of other council members, including conservatives such as Francoise Bergan and Curtis Gardner, to work with Assistant City Attorney Tim Joyce on another amendment that would establish a procedure for the personal belongings of campers to be stored in the wake of a sweep.

Council members ultimately voted 6-5 to introduce the ban, as Coffman broke the tie in favor and council member Angela Lawson voted alongside progressives, saying she believed the city had not done enough to communicate with the state Department of Transportation and Colorado Parks and Wildlife about how the ban would be implemented.

She pointed out that campers along the Interstate 225 corridor and around Cherry Creek State Park are within different jurisdictions and may face requirements for notice.

“Along where the state park is, we haven’t even had conversations, so you’re going to see people there, you’re going to see individuals that are unhoused there until we maybe can work something out,” she said.

The council also voted 9-1 to pass a companion resolution that would direct the city manager to “look for, create, and maintain sufficient shelter options to provide a safe space for individuals and families in an unauthorized camp that desire to use a shelter option.”

Murillo voted “no,” after questioning staff about what the resolution would direct them to do that is not already a priority for the city.

The council votes followed a raucous public hearing that lasted for about two hours and was punctuated by arguing between opponents of the ban and Bergan, who ran the meeting as mayor pro tem while Coffman promoted the ban.

The hearing had to be paused at one point when a homeless Auroran who identified himself as Omen Cross said he would challenge Coffman’s mayoral seat if the council passed the ban. Attendees in the council chambers applauded Cross, and Bergan called for a recess.

“You are setting an example as to whether or not this kind of behavior is OK,” Cross said. “If this council has become so corrupted that you can’t see the poison that’s in your own heart right now, mister mayor, I officially challenge you for the title of mayor of the City of Aurora.”

Many of the people who spoke against the ban said they were affiliated with the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Joel Northam was among them, saying the ban would only contribute to friction between the community and police, and criticizing Coffman personally for a televised stint posing as a homeless person last year.

“You have the means to expand social protections, vocational training programs, etc., more generally, but instead you’d rather commit resources to just shuffling people around endlessly, people who have nothing,” he said. “This resolution will only contribute to further dehumanization of an already vulnerable population.”

Others spoke at City Hall to endorse the ban.

“I am happy to see that this council is supporting a compassionate notion to move people, as was said earlier, off the streets,” said William Overton, adding that he was worried about people living outdoors in subzero temperatures. “It is wrong, and it is not safe, and people are dying on these streets.”

“This is not a perfect step, but it is a first step,” another speaker, Danny Moore, said. “We are our brother’s keepers, and sometimes that means we have to help our citizens when they don’t seem to know they need help.”

16 replies on “Split Aurora lawmakers give tentative OK to new homeless camping ban”

  1. I heard several citizens make the claim that the police are behind the mayor’s initiative so that they can brutally and with racial animus police persons of color. Hyperbole aside I found the claim wholly unfounded given that the chief has come out publicly to state taht the police would oppose this plan. The chief likely made an enemy of the mayor by her stance, she did it anyhow, and yet those opposed to the passage of the ordinance misstate her position, alienating an important ally, just to continue their narrative, ill-informed in this instance though it is.

    Why is a regional problem, a national problem, the responsibility of a local government who does not receive tax money for social services? Our national, state, and county legislators have ignored the problem though it is they charged with addressing it. Now Aurora wants to tackle the issue without monetary resources. We ought to get together and force the state and the counties to coordinate a region wide consistent response to the region wide problem. If Aurora were to do as Mr. Marcano desires, to determine that housing is a right and that the city, not the feds, state, or counties, but the city must provide that service he would bankrupt the city and would encourage the homeless to migrate to Aurora from other areas to obtain that largess. City council ought to pressure the counties and the state to address the problem in a coordinated fashion.

    1. I think you have stated this issue (and summarized last night’s discussion!) better than I have ever seen! Good on you! I have lived in Aurora over 40 years, and I keep my mouth shut for the most part, but I have seen it go from a quiet, unassuming suburb to the crime-ridden, over-crowded city we are seeing today. Lots of issues in play here, BUT you are spot-on that homelessness and urban camping is a Regional (if not National) issue, and having a statewide plan in place to address this is what is needed in the long run. Otherwise, we know what will happen – the “can will continue to be kicked down the street”, moving these camps along into other neighborhoods and making it someone else’s problem.
      You are also correct in that many of last night’s speakers deflected by making this a racial issue and even mentioning Elijah McClain. While these are important topics, they were not prudent to last night’s topic at hand. HOMELESSNESS. Inadequacies with the APD and past transgressions did not address the core issue. It was just to make the mayor and (specifically) Conservative councilmembers look uncompassionate. Many fall for that approach. I do commend the “socialist” advocates in that they made the effort to attend the meeting, speak up and speak with passion, but there are credible and opposing views for everything they said. Wishing someone with the debate skills of Mr. Ben Shapiro were there to set them straight. Other voices need to be heard, but People with opposing viewpoints, while possibly in the majority, are too scared to have that target on their backs. This is not about racism and inequities. Pay attention, folks! This is finally a step in the right direction.

  2. This reporting is disappointing. First of all, no one should be glossing over the horrendous nature of sweeps with the term abatement. Second, to report that people spoke on both sides of the issue ignores the fact that only two or three spoke in favor of the camping ban while dozens spoke against it. Those who railed passionately against the ban included at least one homeless veteran, many who had personally witnessed the cruelty of police actions, and professionals in social work and related fields who used facts to dispel any notion that forced removals work for good.

  3. Well, we all knew this would pass. Now we wait and see what the results will be. There will be a report in a year. I challenge you all to watch carefully on a daily basis what happens. Ask where these campers are relocating to. How long they stay. What services are provided. How your new council people to account. If it works we thank them. If it doesn’t we replace them agreed?

    1. And whom do you think we are going to replace them with? There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to politics. Many of us are happy with last night’s decision. It may not work for everyone, but don’t discount that it does work for some,

  4. The people “camping” are drug addicts or mentally ill. They should be put in jail or a mental institution.

  5. Sponsored by Mayor Mike Coffman, the ban prohibits unauthorized camping on public and private land. Campers could be arrested or fined up to $2,650 if they refuse to leave a campsite after being given at least 72 hours to do so, and city-sanctioned shelter space would have to be available before a camp could be abated.”

    so essentially there is a 3 day urban camping limit before you have to move. I guess we can go camp overnight on the lawn of city hall as long as we only stay 2 nights.

  6. Shameful. Rather than being competent, hard-working and united as a team to help our vulnerable population (1/3 are vets) experiencing homelessness by developing programs and funding them and hire more social and outreach workers and pay them decently to engage those suffering and vulnerable and support current Aurora agencies more that work with the homeless; rather than working with the experts to learn what has helped not hurt the homeless (this will seriously hurt), and by pushing an unconstitutional law that has been struck down already in Denver for criminalizing homelessness….Aurora leaders try to blame and criminalize homelessness, to distract from how incompetent and uninformed they are, to move the homeless to the dangerous shadows, fine them, cause them to lose jobs as many do work, lose even this housing and property vital for them, with no action on improving services and housing and social service workers, and all in a time of even greater hardship from Covid…ignoring data which shows how harmful camping bans and other ways to criminalize homelessness are….and spreading more hate and divisiveness…SHAMEFUL. Vote out everyone who voted for this shameful law.

  7. Once again watching Aurora City Council was a painful experience.  I commend Council Members Murillo, Coombs, Marcano and Medina for their compassion, solutions and efforts to make sense out of this ban.  It is truly embarrassing to witness the disdain and disrespect the mayor and some councilors display towards their colleagues who disagree with them.  No wonder they cannot show compassion for community members when they refuse to listen to or respect their own colleagues. Shameful. 

    1. Once again, reading one of your whiney comments is a painful experience. Tough love is the only thing that will help at this point. Other options have been tried and failed. If you think people, fellow HUMAN BEINGS, living on the streets in their own filth and waste is somehow being “compassionate”, then you will never catch on. This approach is much more likely to encourage at least some of them to look at the services available to them and take that important first step to making changes in their lives. Kudos to the Mayor and Conservative councilmembers who are actually using common sense.

  8. Marcano: “It does not change, materially, the living conditions for folks in our city, housed and unhoused alike.” YES IT DOES—it gets squatters off homeowners land and preserves the rights of the TAXPAYERS and HOMEOWNERS. That is an IMPROVEMENT for the folks who pay the bills in this town. Selective code enforcement and allowing campers to do whatever the hell they want is a slippery slope. We need homeless people to follow the rules just like everyone else. An friggin’ elementary school child can understand that–apparently Marcano can’t.

    1. I didn’t agree with him on everything but I felt he had a good grasp on most things and is clearly an intelligent and thoughtful individual. He mentioned specifics around regional cooperation on this issue, which is something I didn’t really hear from the other at-large candidates. He seemed to be solutions oriented and what I appreciated from him was how he treated other people and how he interacted with other candidates at the time like Dustin Zvonek and Becky Hogan, who may have diverged from his stances but he treated them respectfully. Would have been a breath of fresh air with this council. I think Aurora missed an opportunity with him.

  9. This ban issue opposition group turnout last night was not something that is any significant indicator as some might wish. Before the elections last November this homeless problem passed through the city hall doors earlier. The public’s ears were acutely listening.  The fact it was discussed as election questions to all the candidates. Any Aurora voter that was concerned had access to those interviews and the positions.   It’s pretty fair to think more folks that saw this earlier presentation and felt strongly about it, voted for what they saw and had hoped for.  So, this bunch that showed up last night, card carrying members of  PSL comes as appearing insignificant to the bigger picture.  Here is a link to the crew we saw speak and thinks they want for the city. 
    Elections have consequences, despite the planned outburst and the side-show theatrics from our own couple socialist council members. Aurora is on the way to get itself back on the right trac. The voters will be looking forward to some more cleaning house.  And last night’s city hall – drama queens – will fade away.  

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