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.”