Conservative Aurora lawmakers narrowly finalize homeless camping ban 

984
A camping ban approved March 28, 20222 would give those homeless people camping within the city limits 72 hours to relocate, on the condition there is shelter space provided by the city.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Lawmakers voted for a third and final time Monday to ban unauthorized camping in Aurora, laying the groundwork for a more aggressive policy of disbanding homeless camps.

The ban codifies much of the city’s current stance toward homeless campers, who in general will be given 72 hours notice to leave a campsite before they face the possibility of fines or arrest. City-sanctioned shelter space must be available to house all of the occupants of a camp before it can be swept once the 72 hours have elapsed.

Proponents argue that it will reduce the number of campers along streets and public spaces. Opponents say it will only push vulnerable homeless people to other public places to set up tents, as bans have in Denver and other cities.

Camping on private property without the owner’s permission or the legal right to be there may be prosecuted as trespassing.

Aurora currently uses a mosaic of laws and regulations to clear camps. Unauthorized camping would be made illegal per se by the ban, and council members have said they expect the outcome of the ban will be more consistent enforcement targeting camps.

Despite the fact that the homeless could be arrested if they refuse to leave a campsite, Mayor Mike Coffman once again said during Monday’s City Council meeting that the ban does not criminalize the homeless — unless they refuse orders by police to move — and it connects them with resources by prodding them into shelter.

“I think this is an important first step, in not only cleaning up our city, but helping those who are in these encampments who would be then required to go to a secure location where there are services,” Coffman said.

The ban was voted down last year by a split council. Coffman brought back the ban this year after the November election installed a conservative majority on the city council.

An amendment to the ban introduced by Councilmember Crystal Murillo also directs City Manager Jim Twombly to create a policy for storing the left-behind personal property of campers displaced by a sweep.

Murillo made her amendment March 14 — the change meant the ordinance had to go through an additional round of voting after being approved that night as well as the night of Feb. 28.

As they did twice before, council members Francoise Bergan, Curtis Gardner, Danielle Jurinsky, Steve Sundberg and Dustin Zvonek voted in favor of the ban on Monday, while council members Alison Coombs, Angela Lawson, Juan Marcano, Ruben Medina and Murillo recast their “no” votes.

Coffman again broke the tie in favor of the measure.

Opponents continued to slam Coffman’s proposal and camping bans in general as ineffective, asking why the city didn’t invest in supportive and affordable housing or other strategies for addressing homelessness instead.

“We have been for years now doing some things on affordable housing and homelessness. But it’s very clear from the number of people who are homeless and on the brink of homelessness that what we’re doing is not enough,” Coombs said. “We continue to have the issues, and they continue to worsen.”

Coombs said she believed investing in housing would be cheaper than enforcing a camping ban in the long run.

Marcano again moved unsuccessfully to table the vote on the ban indefinitely. He pointed to Denver’s camping ban as a cautionary tale, saying Aurora’s ban, like Denver’s, would lead to larger encampments, which require more shelter resources to be available at once to sweep and are thus harder for cities to address.

“Real solutions look like permanent supportive housing,” Marcano said. “This will not get people off the streets. This will not do what it is being billed to do. We are all going to be very frustrated after we start spending even more resources on moving people around the city and have nothing to show for it.”

Marcano and others also stated as they had in the past that the city likely doesn’t have enough shelter resources to accommodate all of Aurora’s homeless campers.

A 2021 survey of the city’s homeless residents undertaken on behalf of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported 594 people. Depending on weather conditions, there may be fewer than half as many shelter beds available in Aurora. Service providers generally regard the HUD point-in-time survey as an undercount.

On Feb. 28, council members voted to direct Twombly to create more shelter resources to help accomplish the goals of the ban. A majority of council members signaled their support last week for turning the Aurora Day Resource Center into a 24/7 shelter for up to 75 people, which city staffers estimate will cost around $750,000 up front and $1.35 million per year.

Homelessness programs manager Lana Dalton told the council it would take around one to two months to set up the expanded sheltering at the ADRC.

On Monday, supporters of the ban insisted it would address the unsanitary conditions found in some camps, protecting both campers and the public. Bergan brought up other urban areas such as Seattle and Portland that are turning to camping bans to address the problems of homelessness.

“I think what we’re doing is trying to help those that are in the encampments to get out of that situation,” Bergan said. “And obviously if we can help them with drug addiction, with mental health issues, that is way more compassionate than leaving them in an encampment that’s not sanitary.”

The ban will be enforced by police, despite requests by Police Chief Vanessa Wilson not to involve officers in what she said is a societal problem, not a criminal one.

Enforcement of the ban could begin in 30 days, at the end of April.

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

10 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Publius
Publius
8 months ago

The problem will not be solved by piecemeal legislation of one municipality or another in the metro area. Ping ponging the homeless from one area or one city to another does not work, nor will one city providing top-flight service as that city would be inundated by the homeless of other cities, overwhelming resources. This problem, a social services problem, begs for a regional and statewide response as they have resources for social and human services, municipalities do not. We have DRCOG for our coordinated roadways, we need something similar to address the homelessness phenomenon.

Last edited 8 months ago by Publius
Kevin
Kevin
8 months ago

Great News !!

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
8 months ago

This ban will accomplish little and the staff and council time the Mayor has devoted to it has been a true waste.

With respect to “investment,” both sides need to ownership of the sorry state of the city’s retail tax base. As things stand, council and the mayor are leaving upwards of $30 million per year on the table by ignoring the strategic opportunity.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
8 months ago

Great! Now we’ll all sit back and watch the problem not get solved. But at least some will feel better knowing that the less fortunate among us can now be fined and/or put in jail. And watch our understaffed police rush to do that.

JuWan
JuWan
8 months ago

It is interesting to see the Sentinel’s advocate “journalism” at play here. Aside from the disingenuous writing, the photos selected show only the most pristine examples of homeless camping. If we’re being honest, we’ve all seen the filth associated with these homeless camps which is why it is essential for the city to address them.

Doug King
Doug King
8 months ago
Reply to  JuWan

I can’t disagree with you at all. But there is a right way and a ‘not’ right way to do it. And the conservatives never see anyway but force and it would seem the progressives always seem to want to use the ‘mother Teresa’ way. There should be a middle ground. I’ve advocated for years now to have a place like a clinic to evaluate the ‘campers’ to either help them back into society, treat them for mental illness/drug addiction, give them a place to live if they are just incorrigible or incarcerate them at a last resort. It all costs money though. It’s so much easier and quieter if you just ‘sweep’ the encampments, trash their stuff on a regular basis. That temporarily ‘cleans’ the areas and makes the angry citizens happy. Doesn’t solve the problems though does it?

Susan Carr
Susan Carr
8 months ago

Now let’s ban panhandling

doug
doug
8 months ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

Sec. 94-116. Aggressive begging.Sec. 94-117. Solicitation on or near street or highway.It already is

Kelly White
8 months ago

Get rid of the pot shops.
Problem solved.

doug
doug
8 months ago
Reply to  Kelly White

Barking up the wrong tree.