Once-defeated Aurora homeless camping ban passes 1st hurdle before new city council

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Mayor Mike Coffman has brought back to life his proposal to ban urban camping in Aurora. 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 | Even as the council’s liberal minority slammed it as a cruel and ineffective use of city resources, a proposed ban on urban camping introduced by Mayor Mike Coffman cleared the first hurdle of a study session Monday night.

The mayor and his supporters on council say the proposal is an effective way of discouraging camping along streets, in parks and under bridges, which they characterized as a threat to the health of campers and the public.

“This approach is compassionate to those experiencing homelessness and fair to our residents, and neighborhoods, and businesses in our city,” Coffman said. “I believe that to be cruel to those experiencing homelessness is to do nothing.”

Opposing lawmakers — including council members Juan Marcano, Crystal Murillo and Alison Coombs — called the bill “theater” and said it virtually mirrors existing law without offering any solutions.  They blasted the ban as useless and inhumane, given that it doesn’t provide specific additional shelter options for the city’s homeless.

The law would give the city the ability to disband unauthorized encampments on public as well as private property, which up to this point has been accomplished using a mosaic of existing laws.

Homeless campers already can be forced from private property under existing laws that prohibit trespassing. A collection of other laws can be invoked to break up encampments on public land, according to city officials. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the city has purposely limited sweeps of encampments only to situations that pose a pressing health or safety risk.

Coffman’s proposed ban would give campers at least 72 hours’ notice to abandon their campsite or risk being jailed or fined up to $2,650, according to Assistant City Attorney Tim Joyce.

The ban could only be enforced if adequate city shelter space was available, which is also the case under the city’s existing policy. Coffman said Monday that campers could be offered  as of yet uncreated “safe” camping space with access to restroom facilities, food and other services as an alternative to a shelter bed or motel voucher. Current rules also generally require a minimum of 72 hours’ notice before a camp can be abated.

Jessica Prosser, director of Aurora’s Housing and Community Services Department, said the city’s shelter space is mostly filled up as is. Homelessness programs manager Lana Dalton said there are as many as 285 beds between all of the city’s shelter resources, or up to 360 during winter weather.

“We can usually accommodate a few people,” Prosser told the council when asked how sweeps are handled currently. “If we’re doing additional abatements more often for larger camps, we would probably be in a situation where we would need additional shelter.”

After Coffman said he believed the majority of Aurora residents were “fed up” and wanted to see the city do something about encampments, Marcano said he agreed but doubted the ban would have a positive impact.

“I would not consider this action. This is political theater with a fiscal note, at best,” he said.

After Marcano accused Coffman and some other council members of misrepresenting the ban to the public, he was warned not to “attack” other council members by Councilmember Francoise Bergan, and Coffman shot back that Marcano was “mixed up” concerning opinions and facts.

In response to a question from Murillo, Deputy Police Chief Darin Parker of the Aurora Police Department said chief Vanessa Wilson still does not want to dedicate resources to enforcing a ban.

“The head of our police department is saying we do not have the capacity … and yet, when it’s opportunistic or convenient, we don’t want to support that opinion,” Murillo said. “What is the point of this? We already have procedures and processes that address circumstances and situations similar to this, so this feels like a non-ordinance only for show.”

Homelessness experts say citations, in addition to arrests, can contribute to homeless people becoming trapped in a cycle of run-ins with the law when fines go unpaid and court dates are missed.

A resolution accompanying the camping ban 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.” No funds, however, would be allocated specifically alongside the resolution.

Bergan and Councilmember Dustin Zvonek both spoke up in favor of Coffman’s proposal, saying that discouraging homeless people from camping served both the homeless and the rest of the community by, at least in theory, directing campers into other forms of shelter.

“People are already camping in tents in horrible conditions,” Bergan said, arguing the city needed to “be respectful of our residents who are our neighbors and also our businesses” when mulling the future of the unhoused.

Coombs, Marcano, Murillo and Ruben Medina said they didn’t support the ban moving forward to a regular meeting, which was not enough opposition to actually halt it. The council plans to vote on the proposed ban and companion resolution Feb. 14. While council members will attend the meeting in person, Bergan said the public will not be allowed in chambers.

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Publius
Publius
11 months ago

One wonders what would happen on an abatement effort of a camp of say 50 persons if they all engaged in civil disobedience and refused to leave. Would they be arrested, jailed, granted Public Defenders. Does the jail have the resources, do the Public Defenders, do even the Prosecutors and the Courts? Would the mass arrest become the focus of protests, requiring a public safety presence? I wonder whether this has been table topped to how all of this will play out, and as to how often it would play out.

Susan Carr
Susan Carr
11 months ago
Reply to  Publius

Put them in jail.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
11 months ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

Where and for how long? Are they criminal because they don’t have homes?

Doug King
Doug King
11 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Exactly

Doug King
Doug King
11 months ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

The conservative council members yes

Doug King
Doug King
11 months ago
Reply to  Publius

Actually I’d suggest that happen. Civil disobedience in this case would be a good thing to see.

John
John
11 months ago
Reply to  Publius

Will you house a homeless person? Talk requires action.

dangling in the wind
dangling in the wind
11 months ago

Let’s get real. Nobody likes seeing naked people on the corner of Parker and 225 completely intoxicated and their tallywackers dangling in the wind. Call me compassionless all you want, but these people are a danger, and a nuisance, an annoyance, and a public disgrace. Get them out of the city! Jail, hospital, shelter, mental health, Patty wagon to the county line — get rid of these people!

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
11 months ago

Yeah, just wipe them off the face of the earth. Why not just execute them? No one ever accused you of compassion!

dangling in the wind
dangling in the wind
11 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

And unfortunately in this scenario, zero-tolerance is better than tolerance. Because, we can’t have it both ways. So if I’m going to choose a side, I’m definitely going to choose the side of safety, security, and proper citizenry over that of alcoholism, drug usage, and sheer laziness.

dangling in the wind
dangling in the wind
11 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

I never said anything about wiping them off the face of the Earth. I just said we should drag them to the county line and tell them not to come back — as Sheriff’s did for countless decades prior. If a person is not a contributing member of society, then the city has no business supporting that lifestyle — and especially when that lifestyle is prompting some to dangle in the wind in front of women, children and everyone else.

Doug King
Doug King
11 months ago

And when did that happen? What are you smoking?

dangling in the wind
dangling in the wind
11 months ago
Reply to  Doug King

I have it on my dashboard cam

Jordan
Jordan
11 months ago
Reply to  Doug King

It happens. I’ve seen them lighting their pipes as well. I exit that ramp everyday of the week.

Susan Carr
Susan Carr
11 months ago

Here are the commies we need to vote out:
Juan Marcano, Crystal Murillo and Alison Coombs

Good Citizen
Good Citizen
11 months ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

“Commies” Get a bigger stick to beat that dead horse.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
11 months ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

There are no communists on our City Council, although there may be people you don’t like.

Doug King
Doug King
11 months ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

Please define the word so we know that you know what the word means?

Susan Carr
Susan Carr
11 months ago

The police chief needs to fired a few weeks ago. She is a danger to the City.

Joe Rocco
Joe Rocco
11 months ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

You sound like councilmember Jurinsky, “Susan” lol

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
11 months ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

People like you are more of a danger.

John
John
11 months ago
Reply to  Susan Carr

Wilson is almost as bad as Val Demming when she was police chief. All she has to do is lose her service weapon from her car and she will tie it with her.

I do agree she needs to be fired. She is the reason why good officers don’t want to apply to Aurora. That’s why there’s a 40-50 min response time (in NE Aurora) to altercations and disorderly conduct. By the time the officers arrive the threat has moved on.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
11 months ago

We all need to quit arguing over this. It is a done deal. It is why certain people were elected.

Once in place, we will find that

  1. It will not “discourage camping.” There was a report about the unhoused sleeping at DIA. Many of those folks have been arrested and fined dozens of times, yet they persist.
  2. There are not adequate “shelters” for all of the unhoused, even if they chose to go there.
  3. If fined “$2,650.00” who is going to pay that fine? Certainly not the unhoused! We may be able to put a lien on their homes. (Seriously, really? Has anyone thought this through?)
  4. Our already-overtaxed police department does not have either the person power or the funds to become enforcers of this law.

And will the police be able to enforce the ban under and along state highways? That land is the responsibility of CDOT.

On one thing the Mayor is right: This is not a solution and amounts to nothing more than political theater, which is the story of our entire Country these days. But we all need to quit adding to the drama. It’s going to happen, so we just need to let it do so and let the proponents find out the hard way how wrong they are.

Yes, of course we are all “fed up” with this issue. And honestly, most are tired of hearing about it. Most people only get themselves worked up if and when there is camping in their vicinity. Otherwise, it’s “out of sight, out of mind.” But just doing “something”–anything–is not the answer. Serious thought needs to be involved.

What is needed is a common-sense solution to the causes of the issue, not a knee-jerk reaction to the problem once it has been allowed to be created. In other words, we need to dig deeper and work on the things that lead to the problem. The solution will not be achieved through politics, and there needs to be an area-wide collaboration among all municipalities. We cannot just keep chasing people from one location to another over and over again.

One year from now, when the problem has gotten even worse, we will be having these discussions again. Guaranteed.

Doug King
Doug King
11 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

I’ve been following this now for like six years. Come see me joe.

John
John
11 months ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

Why not do what the towns of eagle county does? Buy them bus tickets to grand junction or Denver most choose Denver.

Doug King
Doug King
11 months ago

See ANIMAL FARM on Aurora TV

Dean
11 months ago
Reply to  Doug King

The real Animal Farm in Aurora is on the streets.

https://denver.cbslocal.com/2022/02/04/denver-polic-homeless-violent-curtis-street/

Yesterday (Monday) Mayor Coffman wrote an editorial that was surprisingly published by the Post. In his lengthy piece he cites several situations where Aurora businesses have had these similar threats of security akin to the CBS piece. The message to the businesses with the city unwilling to do their job, they now expect their businesses don’t matter. Well, they do matter, and in Aurora that’s now turned into its own epidemic. This new plan, is a plan, perhaps not perfect. The last council before this one did not have the political will to face an ugly reality, this one does.

Jeff Brown
Jeff Brown
11 months ago

This camping ban is wholly symbolic and will have zero impact on the root causes. Zero. But the theater looks good to the Mayor’s conservative base and that’s all that really matters, right?

John
John
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Brown

Liberal policies are the root cause enabling the behavior with no consequences.

Thank you come again. I’m not a republican BTW there. Both parties are the same coin