Douglas County officials assure regional cooperation after Aurora, Denver mayors accuse county of ‘exporting’ released homeless jail prisoners

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A growing homeless camp at the southeast corner of the intersection at Mississippi Avenue and I-225. The city in May began a new effort to evict people from these types of camps. Recently Mayor Mike Coffman accused Douglas County officials of “exporting” homeless people from that county to Aurora and Denver
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | Douglas County officials say they’re committed to a regional solution to homelessness after coming into conflict with local cities over their occasional practice of moving homeless ex-prisoners over county lines.

Tensions among officials from Aurora, Denver and Douglas County boiled over recently when Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman accused county officials on social media of “exporting” homeless people released from jail to other metro locations.

Douglas County’s estimated homeless population — 78 people, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2022 point-in-time count — is dwarfed by Denver’s estimated population of 4,798 and Aurora’s population of 612.

Regardless, Douglas County’s lack of homeless shelters and commissioners’ reluctance to approve a temporary sheltering solution drew a rebuke from Coffman on Twitter, where the mayor accused the county of burdening Aurora with its program to connect former county jail inmates — no more than 15 this year, according to the county — with resources in his city.

“Instead of finding a ‘Douglas County solution’ their decision was to ignore the problem, leaving it to the Douglas County Sheriff, Tony Spurlock, to find a humane course of action to take,” Coffman wrote. “Many of the nonprofits in Aurora that provide these services are supported by the city’s taxpayers so the actions of Douglas County will have a direct fiscal impact on our budget.”

The mayor added that he wanted to negotiate an intergovernmental agreement for reimbursement from Douglas County and bring it to Aurora’s City Council for a vote, which has yet to happen, as well as lobby the state to prohibit transportation programs like the county’s.

Laydon and Spurlock responded to Coffman in an open letter describing some of the county’s programs to help the homeless and inviting Aurora to send a representative to participate on the executive committee of the Douglas County Homelessness Initiative.

The letter says that about 76.6% of prisoners released from the jail in Castle Rock aren’t from Douglas County and have no way of getting back to their communities of origin.

“To address this specific cause of homelessness in our community, we created an extension to our Jail Based Reintegration program providing transportation to releasing inmates,” Laydon and Spurlock wrote. “The goal of the program is to return inmates with connected resources that will allow continuum of care and the best chance of individual success while reducing criminal recidivism.”

Rather than foisting its homeless population on other communities, Laydon later said the county is essentially paying for the housing of homeless prisoners from other areas while they are in jail.

“We are already experiencing the burden of homelessness in our jails as is,”  he said. 

The county lacks a full-time homeless shelter, but Laydon insisted that the county has taken actions to assist the homeless population in its jurisdiction.

During the cold winter months, the county works with churches to provide shelter for women and children on a rotating basis through its Winter Shelter Network. The county also has a law enforcement co-response program — the Homeless Engagement, Assistance & Resource Team — which provides case management and helps connect homeless community members with resources.

While commissioners, including Laydon, have expressed interest in setting up Pallet shelters, the plan has yet to be finalized and faced blowback from some members of the public at a recent town hall.

Spurlock later wrote in an email that, in the first half of 2022, the county served 19 homeless clients from Aurora through its reintegration program and provided rides or transportation vouchers to shelters or other locations in the city to no more than 15.

“Generally, we have no intent to transport anyone experiencing homelessness from jail to Aurora or any other jurisdiction unless they have family ties or some other ties to that community,” Laydon said.

He said Coffman told him regarding the county’s reintegration program that the City of Aurora does “the same thing.”

City spokesman Michael Brannen said the City of Aurora this year used marijuana tax revenue to pay for 26 bus tickets for people experiencing homelessness who were able to verify for staffers at the Comitis Crisis Center or Aurora Day Resource Center that there was someone outside of the Denver metro area who would be able to house them.

Brannen said the bus ticket program is only used to transport people unable to provide for their own transportation out of the metro area. He was unaware of any transportation program similar to the county’s at the city jail.

Despite the Twitter dustup between Coffman and the county, Laydon said they remain committed to working together to tackle homelessness in the region.

“Among our Douglas County mayors, it’s been really positive,” he said. “We really do appreciate Mayor Coffman and Aurora. We had the opportunity to tour the Pallet shelters in Aurora, and I was frankly impressed.”

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Dean
4 months ago

Really the nerve of the Douglas County to dump homeless across the city limit sign. How many illegal aliens have been shipped by air or bus directly to these cities? This current administration, Rep Jason Crow included is fine with non-US-citizens coming into town. What’s the mayor going to say about that?

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
4 months ago
Reply to  Dean

Oh, here we go! Of course, these problems never existed prior to Jan. 20, 2021.

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
4 months ago

I would encourage everyone to watch the June 22 Douglas County Town Hall on the Homeless Initiative @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WgD_xiX5rN8.

Douglas County’s outrageous NIMBY policies and prisoner relocation program are on full display. They’re proud of it.

I don’t always agree with the Mayor but on this he has my full support. Aurora’s not rolling over.

Zero
Zero
4 months ago

A huge part of the problem with a lot of homelessness policies is that that stop and start at city lines and since the Denver Metro region has sixty kajillion different cities, we have sixty kajillion different competing strategies. It’s not a competition, Aurora doesn’t win just because Douglas County loses – we all lose when one county or city loses. It’s really weird to expect homeless people to have superpowers to see invisible city boundaries that people with homes don’t even see. If you ask anyone in Aurora where the EXACT border to the next city is, they don’t know – they know Centennial is to the south and Denver is to the west, and Parker is somewhere over there, but you can’t tell which street they have to cross to have different laws – why do we expect homeless people to know this? When you’re wandering around a neighborhood, do you feel a change in the air to tell you when you accidentally step a few feet into unincorporated Arapahoe County or Denver? No, you don’t. There are no alarm bells and or lazer security systems to keep people out of Aurora.

A regional solution, even a national solution, is the only thing that makes sense. We should be coming to the table to talk to Douglas County, not calling them out in Facebook posts like junior high prom committees. Coffman is just mad that he’s too awful of a leader to actually bring Douglas County along on any kind of real solution besides “I dunno, move them a feet to the left so I can say I did something”.

If Douglas County Commissioners behaved like Mike Coffman, they would have responded to the Aurora Mayor’s childish and fearmongering finger-pointing with Twitter replies like “I know you are, but what am I?”

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
4 months ago
Reply to  Zero

Indeed, with all the petty arguing and having made this yet another unresolvable political issue, nothing of substance is guaranteed to be accomplished.

The Denver Regional Council of Governments needs to take this bull by the horn. Take it away from each city’s council and make it the true REGIONAL issue that it is. For example, Arvada may not care about it until it appears on its doorstep, then its residents will howl. Ideas and potential solutions should be available for all, across boundaries. I have been saying this for years.

“NIMBY” is a problem within a city, not just across across boundaries. Listen to them howl when they suddenly see a homeless encampment in their neighborhood or near “their” park and they DEMAND that “someone” do “something.” That’s exactly how we got this ill-advised homeless ban. “Someone” did “something” without putting a lot of rational thought into it for the sake of political expediency. Again, an area-wide plan is needed.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
4 months ago

And where better to get that “continuum of care” than in Aurora now that the law requires that we pay for and provide adequate shelter for all? Aurora is about to become the magnet for the unhoused once the word gets out that the City is required to provide shelter space for every unhoused person.

Zero
Zero
4 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Joe, can you tell me what law is about to happen that requires we pay for shelter for everyone? Honestly, I think you might have been tricked, too, buddy – I don’t think that’s real. What law was just passed that changes these requirements?