Aurora lawmakers hash out storage policy for imminent homeless camping ban

Erin Kay, crouching, and Mikhail Smith, center, who are on the Street Outreach Team for Mile High Behavioral Health, which provides services to the homeless community in the metro region. The two were checking on a homeless camp off of Iliff Avenue and I-225 with Bob Dorshimer, the CEO for MHBHC.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Aurora lawmakers indicated their support Monday for storing personal documents left behind in homeless camp sweeps at the Aurora Day Resource Center, as details of the city’s new camping ban continue to take shape.

Assistant City Attorney Tim Joyce told the council that the lack of a policy for document storage was the final obstacle preventing implementing the ban, which the council finalized at the end of March and which was scheduled to become law April 30.

City staffers said late last week that they were still ironing out details of the ban’s implementation and were not ready to implement it on the effective date. On Monday, council members Danielle Jurinsky and Dustin Zvonek expressed impatience with the ban’s status — both previously voted in favor.

“Staff knew this was coming as soon as we were elected,” Jurinsky alleged. “I’m really disappointed to see that we’re not further along.”

“The citizens of Aurora, they spoke very loud, they want this,” said Zvonek, “and I don’t think continuing to drag our feet to get it implemented is a good idea.”

The measure formally bans unauthorized camping on public land and is meant to address the public health problems associated with homelessness specifically. While the city has abated encampments using a patchwork of existing regulations, during the COVID-19 pandemic, staffers said they were specifically targeting camps that then posed a health or safety threat.

Elected officials say the new ban and its blanket prohibition on unauthorized camping would lead to a more aggressive enforcement posture toward homeless camps in general.

While no council members spoke against the policy of storing personal documents left behind in sweeps in a fireproof container at the ADRC for up to one year, it was unclear Monday night whether the group needed to vote on the policy formally for it to take effect.

Monday’s meeting was a study session, and no formal vote was planned. City spokesman Michael Brannen later said city staffers planned to meet Tuesday to determine whether the policy is now enforceable or if the council needed to take a formal vote.

Council members previously explored the idea of turning the ADRC into a year-round shelter to provide additional shelter that could accommodate campers targeted by the camping ban.

The amendment to the camping ban providing for the storage of campers’ personal property was originally proposed by Councilmember Crystal Murillo, who pushed back against the characterization that her amendment was the only thing holding up the ban or that it was the fault of city staffers’ that the ban was passed without adequate resources to enforce it.

“When we passed this, we knew that there were other issues like staffing that we heard was the number one issue in implementing this,” Murillo said Monday. “I don’t support just pretending like our process is working.”

Jessica Prosser, the city’s director of housing and community services, said IDs and personal documents are set aside currently when camps are swept, and people transported to shelter are allowed to take items on their person.

When Mile High Behavioral Healthcare CEO Bob Dorshimer said his agency was waiting on the city to finalize funding and contracts, Councilmember Juan Marcano — who along with Alison Coombs, Angela Lawson, Ruben Medina and Murillo voted against the camping ban — also said he thought the council had “put the cart before the horse” when it passed the ban without first establishing new shelter options.

Dorshimer said he believed two types of storage were needed to address homelessness. Besides storing items left behind in sweeps, he said many homeless campers are reluctant to enter long-term shelter programs if it means being forced to leave their belongings behind.

“I’m tight on that storage,” Dorshimer said. “A lot of times I can’t get people to come into the shelter because there isn’t adequate storage.”

But shelter space is key to enforcement. As passed, the ban prohibits the city from evicting homeless campers unless there is shelter space available in a designated Aurora shelter. 

Prosser said the ADRC could be renovated, fully staffed and ready for 24/7 sheltering of up to 108 people by August 2024. She estimated that implementing the ban would cost roughly $2.78 million in one-time costs and $2.07 million annually.

That includes $2.66 million for the ADRC renovations; $625,000 per year for abatements, assuming the city undertakes six abatements in an average week; and more than $1 million in costs related to staffing.

Renovations to the ADRC would allow for gender-segregated sleeping areas, separate from where food is served. There would also be a variety of security improvements and a new HVAC system, along with other changes.

Prosser said 10 beds are also available at Comitis specifically for those displaced in sweeps. She told Marcano that shelter space was full Monday night.

Because it was not clear whether the council needed to vote on the policy for storing personal documents, it was also unclear when the city would begin abating camps more proactively to be in alignment with the ban.

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Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
7 months ago

We don’t want it. It was not passed many times for months, until conservatives became slight majority of 1 and all voted for it. Not a single expert working with homeless population in Aurora wants it – NONE of the organizations in Aurora who help the homeless want it (it was just the same in Denver but passed anyway by uninformed uncaring politicians/merchants who did not care how it would really impact Denver). Listen to new Denver podcast to learn what really happens to homeless and their possession under camping ban, it’s traumatic and devastating to homeless population, over and over, costs taxpayers a lot of $ and hurts entire effort with no positive benefit to anyone. It’s a new podcast series put together by all the real caring experts, called “Elevated Denver.”

Last edited 7 months ago by Debra MacKillop
7 months ago

Debra, I get your point about “experts”. I think. Is it, that if there was no homeless people in Aurora then there would be no need for homeless experts in Aurora? Or is it that is my point?

7 months ago

The “experts” who can’t solve the issue either. Can’t wait to give it a listen. They don’t actually want to solve the issue, else they would be out of a job, just like everything else in politics and yes these “experts” are political.

Hypocrisy Monitor
Hypocrisy Monitor
7 months ago

Debra, I listened with great interest to the podcast featuring the prominent players who have a vested interest in perpetuating the homelessness problem. They did an impressive job of highlighting sympathetic “victims,”

I suggest you listen again, closely this time, to Myra’s interview. She represents a vast many of those on the street by choice.

All homeless are not the same. Those willing and able should be encouraged and helped to work their way out. They should also be held accountable. If they give an effort, I will give. I am not interested in “enabling” (Myra’s word) the ones who are simply abusers of drugs — and the system.

Last edited 7 months ago by Hypocrisy Monitor
Rob Lewis
Rob Lewis
7 months ago

Debra, who is the “We” you speak of? We, Aurora citizens, want better services for the homeless population that wants to find safe and sanitary places to live, ultimately permanent housing is the solution.You want to have people just drop a tent or temporary shelter on main street sidewalks, open spaces and other people’s property? Look at the parks in Denver and tell us that’s what you want, used needles, feces and rats? View “Seattle is dying”, or better yet. Go there. See what is in store for Colorado if we don’t do something now.

7 months ago

I have offered the City a location that could have multiple tiny homes, or parking for campers and or tents. Very minimal cost. But the city wants to pay millions to house hundreds… just plain stupid. It is a problem without solution as many will not move to shelters, and many have no respect for property and just want a free place. I advocate some community work to pay their way. Besides this gives some experience and potential for work in the longer term. Just throwing money at the problem does not address cause, and how to move away from homelessness.

7 months ago

Seems to me you now have to be some kind of “expert”  in social work or had been in a previous  homelessness situation to have a qualified opinion on the subject. 
Yet, watching the council study session something  comes to mind as for my expertise. I’m a fully qualified “expert” taxpayer. Watching the session the other night a simple subject was brought up. The front door has to be replaced according to the “experts”. The  window to look who’s outside is not the right size, it must be replaced. The mayor thoughts were what’s the big deal? Oh-no that door must go. That door  debate went on for 45 minutes at least. A major problem that must be solved. Well this “expert” says cut a bigger hole in the fricken door, put in a bigger window  and call it good.
And let’s not forget  we will have security cameras to boot. The basket ball court , was a real selling point for me, don’t forget the swimming pool, and the life guards to put on the city payroll. 
It was ironic the Juan Marcano, now insist the city building codes be mightily  enforced in the construction of the new digs. Juan, take a drive in your city sometime, particularly  in older Aurora-Ward 1.  You want building code enforcement , you want the city to now enforce the rules in the homeless area. Perhaps you and Council Murillo, could get something done in her Ward to get Aurora staff to do their jobs of enforcement, why wait?