After familiar deadlock, Aurora lawmakers add 30 tents, 30 pallet shelters for unhoused residents

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Ice fishing tents are and have been a popular option for sheltering homeless populations. The city of Aurora hosted an open house, May 19, 2021, providing an opportunity for community input on preferred locations for outdoor spaces and a variety of sheltering options for those suffering homelessness.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Disagreement over how to house the city’s homeless, especially as colder weather approaches, continued over the weekend as Aurora City Council members debated whether it’s better to purchase additional tents or more durable pallet shelters.

After an hour and a half of discussion at the Saturday budget retreat, council members agreed — on what some deemed a compromise — to purchase 30 new ice fishing tents and 30 pallet shelters, which come equipped with heating elements and vary in size. 

Some council members were in favor of purchasing only tents — Mayor Mike Coffman said having completed cold weather training in the military, he believed there are insulated tents that would suffice Aurora winters — while others favored purchasing 60 pallet shelters. The shelters could be flattened and stowed away when not in use.

The city already has 30 ice fishing tents that serve as shelter, but heavy snow and high winds did prove to be troublesome over the winter, according to Community Development Manager Jessica Prosser, who told council members Saturday that some of the tents did collapse over the winter because of the weather.

When colder weather arrives, the city will once again be limited on space due to the pandemic. Prosser said an overnight shelter in the city can accommodate 150 people, the day resource center can accommodate 75 people — down from its pre-pandemic numbers — and pallet shelters — which come in two size options, 64 square-feet and 100 square-feet — could potentially temporarily house up to 90 people. 

The last census of people in Aurora experiencing homelessness counted 427 people in 2020, before the deep onset of the pandemic. The number itself is controversial, with homelessness activists saying it’s a vast undercount for a variety of reasons. Many point to  “invisible” homeless people, staying with friends or family or subtly living between motel rooms and car seats. Others point to an uncounted increase in people camping in public as Denver and other communities “sweep” encampments outside of Aurora, driving them into the city.

Purchasing 60 pallet shelters would have cost the city approximately $718,000, which would be funded with federal dollars allocated to the city, according to city documents. Each ice fishing tent costs about $300, but heating elements are additional. 

Staff said residents who attended an open house of shelter options earlier this year preferred the aesthetics of pallet shelters over tents. 

“Frankly, I feel like we are undermining the effectiveness of actually addressing a problem that our constituents have been asking us to address for well over a year,” Councilmember Juan Marcano said during the meeting. “I mean, longer than that. I’s become a major issue really since COVID hit. And I don’t understand where the resistance is coming from. I think that staff has laid out an excellent rationale for their proposals… I think our constituents have reached out and let us know. I think we got decent participation.

“And I still would honestly really like to understand for the folks who haven’t spoken up why they’re against the palette shelters, given that they address a lot of the safety concerns, and that folks seem to be more receptive to accepting services, if that’s what they’re going to be able to move into instead of just another kind of tent,” Marcano said.

Council members Dave Gruber, Marsha Berzins, Francoise Bergan and Curtis Gardner joined Coffman in originally supporting the purchase of 60 tents and no pallet shelters. Any proposal needs the support of six members. The hour-and-a-half debate echoed that of Coffman’s urban camping ban proposal, which failed on a tied vote multiple times due to a vacant council seat earlier this summer.

Berzins suggested the 30 tents, 30 pallet shelters as a compromise to the impasse. It passed unanimously. 

The final cost for the tents and shelter pallets wasn’t immediately available to the council, but will be incorporated into a final budget, which will come before council for a final vote later this fall.

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doug
doug
18 days ago

As usual the Republicans on council refuse to answer to the public regarding their reasoning for opposition votes. Federal funds! Pallet homes are sturdier. They last longer. More adaptable. Storable . Insulated. Safer. And why later this fall? These are needed yesterday!!

Mark B.
Mark B.
16 days ago
Reply to  doug

I support whatever is less comfortable for the homeless. Whichever one is colder in the winter would be my selection. I don’t want to encourage people living on the streets and being a burden on society.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
18 days ago

Good to see they are doing something to help, but there are those who will still bristle at the sight of them and complain that they are too close to their homes.

Juan is correct in tat the City is not really addressing the root causes for homelessness, however.

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
18 days ago

IT’S BEYOND ME WHY AS A CITIZEN OF AURORA THAT ANY OF MY TAXES SHOULD GO TO HOUSE THE HOMELESS IN ANY WAY AND NOW IT HAS TO BE ONGOING AS THE TENTS SEEM TO LAST ONE YEAR..MAYBE.

THIS IS A SOCIALIST JUAN MARCANO PUSH AND HE SHOULD BE ELIMINATED FROM COUNCIL AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. I WORKED FOR EVERYTHING THAT I’VE RECEIVED IN MY LIFE AND EXPECT 100 PERCENT OF OTHERS TO DO THE SAME AND NOT ASK FOR HANDOUTS FROM ME THROUGH THE CITY.

VOTE THE SOCIALISTS OUT OF CITY GOVERNMENT.

Damien
Damien
16 days ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

I’m with you, not for socialism. But as a resident of Aurora I will say YES, please spend my taxes to SHELTER (not HOUSE) the homeless… many of my neighbors are concerned about their property values, etc. but what happens to your property values when there’s an encampment of tents built across the street? Never mind the value of helping our fellow citizens during hard times. That’s not socialism, that’s just humanity. GOD BLESS

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
17 days ago

It’s unfortunate how many tax dollars have been WASTED on outreach abd public involvement here. The fact that.these are federal dollars only drives the waste upwards.

The city could have refurbished an existing structure to serve as a permanent shelter with the money being wasted on this boondoggle.

Fire the city staff and direct the funds to a reliable NGO.