Aurora lawmakers take up homeless camping ban Monday amid unanswered questions

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Aurora lawmakers will take up a proposed ban on homeless camping in the city Feb. 28. The proposal would give those camping within the city limits seven days to relocate, on the condition there is an alternate location, provided by the city, available to relocate.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | A ban on urban camping pitched by Mayor Mike Coffman is up for a vote again, splitting Aurora City Council members on whether a ban would keep residents safe or unfairly target the city’s homeless.

As proponents and critics on city council trade contradicting charges about the effect of the legislation and some parts are undefined, city staff charged with implementing the measure did not provide The Sentinel with details about bill as of Friday despite repeated requests.

For six months, Coffman’s proposal was shelved, after failing on a tied vote in August. It has since been revived and came before the new, majority-conservative council for debate on Feb. 7, where council progressives blasted it as unnecessary and cruel.

The lack of a ban didn’t stop the city from sweeping nearly 80 encampments in 2021, according to homelessness programs manager Lana Dalton.

A memorandum outlining the city’s current policy on sweeps enumerates dozens of laws and regulations that the city believes could be used to break up encampments on public property. Grounds for abatement include everything from open fires and loose hypodermic needles to discarded clothing, uneaten food and “unsanitary” bedding.

As for private property, the definition of “trespassing” in Aurora’s municipal code addresses remaining on a private and public property without the owner’s permission or the legal right to be there, city officials have long maintained.

Critics of the measure have repeatedly said the measure does not detail how homeless campers would be removed from unauthorized public camps and what would happen to them if the voluntarily move on.

City officials declined to answer a list of questions about those details and did not say what powers the ban would give the city that current laws don’t already afford.

A companion resolution, also sponsored by Coffman, 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.”

The city declined to say how additional shelter would be created to accommodate the city’s unhoused population. No funds would be allocated specifically alongside the resolution. The ban, however, as written, could not be enforced unless there were shelter resources available for those who would be displaced.

Coffman indicated in an email that his proposal could expedite the process of abating camps on private land. The measure would give campers at least 72 hours notice before a camp is swept, which is consistent with the city’s current policy.

“Under current law, a property owner has to file a complaint and wait for (the Aurora Police Department) to ticket the campers before they can be removed,” the mayor wrote. “There is no limit to how long the process can take between the filing of the complaint, the campers being ticketed, and an abatement occurring.”

It’s unclear from the bill and city hall response how the proposed measure would carry out removal from campsites.

In response to the question of how shelter might be created to support the companion resolution, Coffman wrote that the city had “given me a number but since they are not releasing it until after the proposal passes, I will not release it.” It’s unclear why city staffers and Coffman would withhold the information until after the bill is approved, or if Coffman was referring to a projected cost or needed shelter spots so the ban could be activated.

Dalton has told the council that there are up to 285 beds available among all of the city’s shelter resources, or as many as 360 beds during winter weather.

In 2020, the last time Aurora’s unsheltered and sheltered homeless population was counted on behalf of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 427 people were said to be sleeping on the streets, in emergency shelters and in transitional housing. Service providers generally consider HUD surveys to be an undercount.

The ban might not expand the city’s legal authority necessarily, but both supporters and opponents of the ban believe it would lay the groundwork for a more aggressive posture toward camps.

Staffers have previously said the city has limited camp abatements during the COVID-19 pandemic to situations that pose an immediate health or safety risk.

“What we’ll push for on council is consistent enforcement,” said Councilmember Dustin Zvonek, who spoke up in favor of the ban on Feb. 7. “Having these encampments, whether they’re behind homes or next to the highway, they’re a significant public safety issue.”

Zvonek said irregular enforcement of Denver’s camping ban was to blame for the prevalence of encampments in that city and insisted a ban would push campers toward services that could ultimately help them escape homelessness.

Councilmember Alison Coombs, on the other hand, questioned how serious the sponsors of the ban were about connecting the homeless with services when there likely aren’t enough beds to accommodate the city’s homeless population to begin with.

“My concern is we’re going to cycle people through a small number of shelter beds over, and over, and over again,” she said. “These bans ruin people’s lives, take their stuff and make it harder for them to get housing. … It doesn’t seem like it actually changes the powers that the city has, but it takes away staff discretion.”

Coffman also wrote that his proposal “applies equally to all public and private properties and requires the city to take action in abating encampments.”

Campers could be arrested or face fines up to $2,650 if they fail to leave a campsite after the notice period is up, according to Assistant City Attorney Tim Joyce.

Aurora’s City Council will vote on the ban during their next meeting, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at the Aurora Municipal Center, located at 15151 E. Alameda Parkway.

At least one activist group, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, has announced it is rallying the public to attend the meeting and speak in protest against the ban. Information about participating remotely and in-person is available at www.auroragov.org/city_hall/mayor___city_council/council_meetings.

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Cheryl
Cheryl
9 months ago

Let the homeless stay, rent has gone up and people can not afford to pay rent. It’s sad but so true.

Susan Carr
Susan Carr
9 months ago
Reply to  Cheryl

LOL! No.

Have you invited any to camp on your property?

Last edited 9 months ago by Susan Carr
Joe Felice
Joe Felice
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

Oh stop! And try to have a little compassion.

Jim F
Jim F
9 months ago

Random urban camping is indeed a public safety issue for everyone, including the “homeless” as well as residents. If you don’t think it harms the community, just take a visit to downtown Denver or observe the trash and drug paraphernalia along the border of Cherry Creek State Park and Parker Road. A camping ban protects property values and protects children going to school for example, but the ban must offer the “homeless” a viable option.

I support a camping ban IF we provide safe camps where social services can be concentrated including mental health treatment, substance addiction counseling, job counseling and training, temporary accommodations, the provision for meals and showers, security, and all other social and financial benefits that the safe camp residents might qualify for.

Expensive? Yes, but allowing the current situation to continue is also expensive, wasting scarce law enforcement resources while doing little to address public safety and property values impacted by the scattered homeless camps.

In time, it needs to be made clear that the benefits of our local safe camp should only be provided to Colorado residents – if you’re homeless in Topeka, Aurora should not be a destination simply to take advantage of this benefit.

If all major metropolitan areas took this approach and took care of their “own”, public safety and property values become non-issues, and the homeless can access all of the benefits they need and deserve, allowing them to participate more fully and productively in their communities.

I cannot imagine how a reasonable and compassionate yet pragmatic fellow citizen can object to this approach.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim F

So be prepared to pay. That’s the side of this that people ignore.

Jim F
Jim F
8 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

I addressed that in my third paragraph.

Doug King
Doug King
9 months ago
Reply to  Jim F

Finally someone who has the same approach I do. I have presented this to several people, council and people running for council! And tonite I would love to hear where they intend to put these campers once they “move” them? Cause you know the conservatives are gonna pass this and they are going to insist that Chief Wilson enforce it even though she is against it.

Susan Carr
Susan Carr
9 months ago

Arrest the vagrants.

BlueBird
9 months ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

…and then sentence them to intervention services and/or jail.

Dean
9 months ago

I guess I just don’t get it. The city of Aurora owns numerous pieces of property they have in their real estate portfolio. Their own real estate staff experts, daily looking for leasing opportunity to house the homeless. In addition, they have nonprofits in search to facilitate properties for this purpose. They pay several hotels on east Colfax to put up the homeless. Is the city now willing to step up to the plate and start using the vacant building the city owns that was used as the Morning Star program now out of business? The building sits out by itself and has a few kids that come to a city run preschool. If this homeless housing is truly something the city wants to sink their teeth into, give up the building on Boston Street.          

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
9 months ago
Reply to  Dean

No one gets it, and don’t seem to seek real solutions. Everyone admits, however, that this is a serious problem. And it will get worse, with or without arrests.

Dean
9 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Well Joe, its time the city makes a decision, either fish or cut bait. The building on Boston St. we own, gifted from the Feds is unused and still well maintained. It’s old, Lowery AFB vintage, it’s in Ward 1, which for some reason I’m still surprised the Ward 1 council rep did not lobby to make use it. Maybe she doesn’t know it’s in her Ward. Nonetheless, we have plenty of homeless experts on the city payroll hired to solve this, and its worse now. Listing to them, they would tell us otherwise.

Doug King
Doug King
9 months ago
Reply to  Dean

Dean, you got to ask your council person these questions. Make them answer. I assure you that that they will!

HousingCourtReform
HousingCourtReform
8 months ago
Reply to  Dean

They don’t care to listen, nor do they care to solve the problem. There’s too much money to be had from other’s misery. I can’t believe that people think every single solitary homeless person is displaced because of “bad choices” as if this isn’t a systemic problem. Cosplay Coffman isn’t interested in solving anything; none of these politicians are because if they were, they would start with these putrid, biased housing courts and come up with actual solutions instead of slapping a bandaid on the issue and making promises just to get elected.

I was hustled into homelessness; not for nonpayment of rent but for fighting a retaliatory eviction by Echelon Property Group, who raised my rent by 41% ($1202 to $1695) on July 28,2020, over the phone and they made it retroactive and sudden. No notice. They had received two months’ rent 10 days prior from Aurora Rent Assist. Ten days later, I offered them the two months’ rent I was behind, plus an additional month, and they rejected it. From August 2020 until December 2020, I repeatedly offered the legal amount of rent I owed them and they refused it because it didn’t include the illegal rent increase.

Prior to that, on June 30, 2020, I was handed a Non-lease Renewal one day before I was to sign a new lease with a seven day move out. No notice and a week to move out? Even without the pandemic, that is illegal. I was offered a lease renewal three times, and each time they reneged at the last minute. I was bullied and harassed during the entire pandemic, in addition to being secluded alone with a massive lupus flare.

The Arapahoe County courts did not care. Despite qualifying for the eviction moratorium, the courts decided otherwise. They didn’t care that I never received a Notice of Hearing and they didn’t care that I didn’t receive any notice about the hearing until 4 days before the hearing, received two different starting times, and no evidence submission instructions until the day after the initial hearing. I appealed, and the district court didn’t have a problem with denying me equal access to the courts. It was perfectly ok that I didn’t receive vital information so that I could properly defend myself. The courts and EPG made sure I could not submit any evidence because otherwise it doesn’t exist. Right?!

These courts create poverty intentionally and maliciously. I had a job and no debt prior to this. My rent was never late. I had money saved. My credit was 767 now it is in the 400’s and I have massive debt. Debt I shouldn’t have, but Arapahoe County didn’t care that while we were being told to stay put from those in the highest positions in the country and doctors, they worked overtime kicking people out of their homes illegally because they knew there were no repercussions for doing so. Janski and Hernandez, who are supposed to dispense justice, awarded Echelon Property Group the illegal rent increase by adding a heaping helping of suppression on top of my serving of oppression. Rewarded for being putrid slumlords courtesy of the courts.

I did nothing wrong, yet I am the only one paying the price for others’ misdeeds. It’s as if these two justices are vying for death penalty positions and they must prove they have the stones to prey on innocent people by demonstrating just how evil sociopaths can be. Throwing people out into the streets in the middle of a pandemic despite recommendations and doctors’ letters, depriving them of their rights, safe havens, assets, jobs, sanity, relationships, and dreams for grins is depraved and they do it every day with no consequence. They have no business judging anybody if they can’t dispense justice properly.

I get a lot of “That’s illegal”, That’s not right”, “That’s horrible”, “Hey, they can’t do that”, but I couldn’t get anyone to help me fight this blatant depravity nor could I get anyone to explain how or why the courts are set up to destroy people’s lives. Apparently, it’s a taboo subject like Voldemort.

There was nothing fair or just about how I was railroaded into homelessness. Since December 2020, I have been looking for a place to live. I was officially evicted in August 2021 and I have had to give up chemotherapy until I find housing stability. Since August, I have moved 4 times and have been paying Uhaul almost $300 a month to store my belongings. Now, I have to seriously consider giving it all up because I do not see any housing prospects in sight and because housing instability means job instability $300 is a large chunk of money to fork over indefinitely. Landlords will not accept an eviction deserved or not. Even without an eviction, there is not enough affordable housing. Period. These people aren’t vagrants, nor are they criminals. Some are law-abiding and have jobs and the people suggesting they get rounded up like cattle are sickening monsters. Treating homelessness like a crime is grotesque and caging and fining already poverty-stricken, desperate people ensure they stay trapped in a cycle of poverty and slavery.

Coffman has no interest in coming up with solutions. That’s not this “Civil servants” job. These aren’t actual human beings to him, they are fuel for capitalists. I did nothing wrong. I did everything right, including going to the courts to right an obvious wrong and the end result was the courts showed me they aren’t fair, nor do they care. Judges aren’t to be revered. Contracts are worthless. There is a two tiered “justice” system. Rules are there to control certain sects of the population, not for law and order. Crime pays. Janski and Hernandez spend their days aiding and abetting corruption by slapping an air of legitimacy onto illegal evictions, thus displacing law-abiding citizens, while letting shady slumlords like Echelon Property Group get away with swindling innocent people. It’s a criminal enterprise.

These homeless people are Coffman’s constituents too, but it’s obvious he’s not thinking about them because otherwise he would come up with solutions that don’t further dehumanize them by shuffling them around, penalizing poverty, and further traumatizing them. It’s gaslighting. He and his ilk know there aren’t enough shelters or affordable housing for everyone, yet he insists on acting as if homelessness is a consequence of their mistakes; something they did to themselves when, in many cases, mine included, it was done to them. No one cares enough to address the actual issue; the courts. I get dead eyes, ghosting, and shrugged shoulders.

These housing courts don’t have to destroy tenants for defending their rights, yet they do. They are oppressors. Either put up with inhuman conditions and thievery or be blackballed into homelessness. Only for some unscrupulous landlord to start the cycle all over again. They are predators aided by laws created to set us up for failure and deter citizens from exercising their right to advocate for themselves. A housing representative called it a flaw in our justice system. Flaws are fixed. This is intentional and the fact that no one in a position to do anything about it wants to talk about it or rectify it means that both sides of the aisle are complicit, corrupt, coconspirators. Massive homelessness is here to stay.

So, Coffman’s mean spirited camping ban will go forward with no concrete solutions for the displaced and the ones who see the homeless as stains on humanity will continue getting off on minimizing people who are bearing the brunt of a global pandemic and greed and just trying to survive while grasping the fact that they have been disenfranchised purposefully by their government. There isn’t one politician claiming to care about the homeless epidemic saturating the wealthiest and most powerful country on earth that is willing to address the role biased housing courts play in the number of homeless people. Why? Because it is lucrative.

Jim F
Jim F
8 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

I proposed a specific and achievable solution above, i.e. safe camps where comprehensive social and human services can be provided.
Please tell me what it is that I “don’t get”.

You also commented below that you are “against making homelessness illegal”. We agree completely on that point.

But “homeless” rights cannot usurp the rights of others: children have the right to walk to school without encountering drug paraphernalia and feces; taxpayers have a well-defined expectation that the government will protect property rights; reasonable citizens have the right to be appalled at the scattered garbage and refuse which inexplicably accumulates around homeless camps.

We also have an obligation to use the social safety net of services – public and private – to support those in need.

Allowing random camping along roadways or bicycle paths is not a “real solution”.

Debra
Debra
8 months ago
Reply to  Jim F

Since Thanksgiving an RV has been parked on a public street next to our business and several other businesses/apartments/school. I filed a homeless encampment report in January- nothing. Propane bottles and trash are around the RV, it stinks when the weather is hot, not sure how they are handling their waste, but not good. I have continued to file new information along with many others, but RV is still there. Visitors throughout the day, suspect drugs going in and out. Blocking view of the exit onto the street making it challenging for cars to exit onto the street. Stolen car appeared last week behind the RV, police hauled it away and said they would be back to remove RV- nothing. More and more people showing up and hanging around. Very uncomfortable for employees and anyone walking in the area as person living in the RV is becoming more and more aggressive. Hopefully the bill that was passed last night will help us resolve this issue, but not holding my breath.

BlueBird
9 months ago

Everyday the city, in order to maintain order and safety, expects compliance and enforces the many rules concerning building codes, trash, toxic chemicals, parking, and so much more. Why should compliance be only for those of us that have an address?

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
9 months ago
Reply to  BlueBird

If anyone breaks a law, he should face the consequences. But there currently is no law against homelessness, although some seek to create one.

BlueBird
8 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

The homeless that erect a structure without a proper building code or that leave needles in the grass or that leave feces, or that don’t contain their garbage or that are intoxicated in public are not in compliance with city rules and codes and should face the consequences of those actions. Why allow our common sense city rules on health and safety to be so flagrantly disregarded?

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
9 months ago

I am not a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and never heard of it, so it must be a tiny splinter group, which some will assume includes all Democrats, which it does not. But I am against making homelessness illegal. I remember when vagrancy was a crime in this country. So after many years, we regress, not having learned the lessons of the past.

Zvonek seeks “consistent enforcement.” That would be enforcement by the same overwhelmed police who are not able to enforce all our other laws. Smart.