COUNCILPERSON JOHNSTON: Mayor Coffman undermines Aurora homelessness progress with misinformation

1825
Kurt, who is homeless and currently living at a camp between Colfax and 17th Avenues, sits on his mattress under several blankets on a chilly Sept. 10, 2020 afternoon. The camp where Kurt had been living was swept several weeks before. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

As a concerned community member, advocate, council member and chairperson of the Housing Redevelopment and Neighborhood Services policy committee, I feel compelled to address the continued mischaracterizations and over simplification of issues facing people experiencing homelessness made by Mayor Mike Coffman.

Yesterday, Mayor Coffman made statements on social media denigrating Permanent Supportive Housing solutions and wanting requirements to “become sober or get a job” in order to receive homelessness services.  He continued with misinformed generalizations as if he is the expert in this area.  He is not.

Data driven and evidence based policy is what we should be focusing on, not political rhetoric.  The Housing First approach is one evidence based policy supported by studies and peer reviewed articles that recognizes trauma experienced by people experiencing homelessness. Housing First includes permanent supportive housing services that meet the person and their life of trauma, where they are. Then begin the healing in a home.

Numerous studies have documented the costs and benefits of supportive housing in the United States. Permanent housing Services reduces the use of publicly funded crisis services, including jails, hospitalizations, and emergency departments.

We won’t end homelessness using one approach. The City’s Housing Strategy includes fostering a balanced and sustainable housing portfolio in Aurora, preserving the long-term affordability of existing housing stock, expanding the inventory of housing options throughout Aurora, strengthening the City’s capacity of addressing housing issues, supporting protections for homeowners and renters and strengthening the local economy and expanding employment opportunities.

Mayor Coffman’s stated that, “the majority (of council), with the support of our staff, are moving in the direction of adopting solutions that will ultimately increase the problem of homelessness rather than decrease it.”  This is insulting on many levels.  I can handle his criticism of me any day of the week, but don’t attack our professional staff who have the technical expertise he does not.

I am proud of the policies staff have recommended as well as the majority of city council’s support. This includes the pledge that Aurora and eight other cities are taking that states that homelessness is an issue, that we will coordinate with the Metro Denver Homelessness Initiative on Built for Zero (getting the homelessness population to a functional zero), that we will be innovative and pave the way moving forward on homelessness prevention and services.

Working regionally, using evidence-based policies and ignoring the ill-informed statements of Mayor Coffman is how we can achieve success.

Nicole Johnston  is an Aurora City Councilmember and represents Ward II. She is chairperson of the Housing Redevelopment and Neighborhood Services Committee.

2.7 3 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
19 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
FeelingsAreNotFacts
FeelingsAreNotFacts
1 month ago

Contrary to Johnston’s claims, Housing First has not been shown to be effective in ending homelessness only for a small segment of “high utilizer” homeless people. Making Housing First the organizing principle of homeless services systems will not save taxpayers money.

Housing First’s record at addressing behavioral health disorders, such as untreated serious mental illness and drug addiction, is far weaker than its record at promoting residential stability. Its record at promoting employment and addressing social isolation for the homeless is also weaker than its record at promoting residential stability.

Common sense says people are more likely to commit to turning their lives around when they have skin in the game–what others call “conditions”. Programs like Bridge House’s Ready to Work are a great proof of concept. Let’s do more of those.

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
1 month ago

Totally incorrect. What experience do you have? Your “common sense” is irrelevant. Data and more than a decade of working with Housing First Model show it is the most effective and humane approach – after seeing how ineffective and even cruel the approach was to tell people experiencing homeless that we would help them with housing only after they “get it together” and in the meantime can just be homeless. Many people experiencing homelessness are not ready to work. They need to get stable in good shelter, rather than spend all day figuring out where to stay that night, not eating well, in the weather, walking miles, dehydrated, medical problems, etc. I worked for many years running a housing program for women in Denver experiencing homelessness with funding from Denver’s Road Home and working at The Gathering Place, and it was very successful using the Housing First Model and me providing case management for all those in the program, and linking them up with needed services to become more self-sufficient. I know that Housing First works, and much better than any other approach. Many people experiencing homelessness are already working but so stressed to do so with no permanent housing. If people are able to work they will, but the homeless are spending their time trying to find a place for the night and get a meal and some water and maybe a bus pass during the day just to get around. Housing First model does not discourage people from working if they are able. This has always been incorrect. People want to work, make income and be useful, if they can. Enough with the uninformed, no experience opinions denigrating both the homeless and the people who spend their lives trying to help the, with poor wages and never enough program funding.

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
1 month ago

let’s see some data. Cause feelings are not facts. My decade of working with Housing First showed it the most successful approach in Denver at helping people experiencing homelessness get housing and become more self-sufficient and most importantly, maintain that self-sufficiency.

freeatlast
freeatlast
1 month ago

Bless your heart, Nicole Johnston! Thank you for speaking with truth and common sense.

Mayor Coffman seems to be clueless and totally lost when it comes to matters of Aurora. Very sad!

Let’s stop blaming those without homes and start looking for solutions! Let’s elect a mayor with a brain!

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
1 month ago
Reply to  freeatlast

Thank you. I worked many years running a successful housing program out of The Gathering Place for women experiencing homelessness, using the Housing First Model. I was appalled when Coffman disguised himself a few months ago and hung out during the day for just a few days with people who are homeless, pretending he was one too. It was very cold out, and Coffman went home every night. After doing this a few days, he decided he was the expert on homelessness and announced they didn’t want to be housed and we should stop trying to help them – any of them – though he has no experience and has never worked to help the homeless or in the social work or advocacy area. I can’t believe the arrogance of him. I suggest he take a break from Mayor and go actually volunteer at one of the shelters for a while or a social service organization, and also go get his master’s degree in social work like I have and actually learn what the data shows about what is helpful to people experiencing homelessness, how the cycle of homelessness works, and what their life really is like.

Dick Piekarski
Dick Piekarski
1 month ago

Three cheers for Nicole Johnston. Keep Coffman’s feet to the fire and keep him honest. Why is a super conservative like Major Coffman running a diverse city like Aurora? What has he ever done to show he cares about the common folk? If it were up to him, he’d probably send all the homeless to boot camp–teach ’em to march, shoot and dig foxholes.
Aurora voters need to vote smarter or maybe more of them just need to vote. Aurora needs a mayor with a bigger heart. Coffman belongs in the Springs.

None
None
1 month ago

Please come and get the homeless and give them a bedroom in your house Nicole

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago
Reply to  None

This is not a solution, but rather a wise crack that the naysayers and haters have adopted.

Dennis Duffy
Dennis Duffy
1 month ago

Having been homeless and a drug addict but now sober and hopefully a reasonable person I tend to agree most with the Mayor. I think for lack of a better description many homeless are, “less than average intellectually or emotionally ” and will NEVER EVER have their shit together. But they are our brothers and sisters and need and deserve our unqualified but logical tough love.
Don’t know how to do it but we must treat them as humans and hope for the best …

Last edited 1 month ago by Dennis Duffy
Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago
Reply to  Dennis Duffy

The Mayor’s words did not strike me as compassionate.

vern
vern
1 month ago

Well solutions are as varied as the homeless person. There is mental illness, there is those that lost their job because of no fault of their own and there is just those that have no desire to work- and survive off of the good will of others. I have tried to find solutions to help but the City planners and government are not even responsive. I have emailed and called- never to receive a response. It is not a problem that is going to go away as thousand of illegal folk flock to Aurora. It is going to be putting a big burden on the tax payers of Aurora. It is not something to be encouraged on one hand as we have played go to denver, go to aurora for years. There are common sense things that can be done, but it seems that thinking outside the box is not something Aurora is willing to do. It is not the Mayor’s fault nor it his only job. We all can do something small to help- but the people that are supposed to be dealing need to step up their game as it is a job they are getting paid to do..

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
1 month ago
Reply to  vern

I worked many years running a successful housing program out of The Gathering Place for women experiencing homelessness, using the Housing First Model. I was appalled when Coffman disguised himself a few months ago and hung out during the day for just a few days with people who are homeless, pretending he was one too. It was very cold out, and Coffman went home every night. After doing this a few days, he decided he was the expert on homelessness and announced they didn’t want to be housed and we should stop trying to help them – any of them – though he has no experience and has never worked to help the homeless or in the social work or advocacy area. I can’t believe the arrogance of him. I suggest he take a break from Mayor and go actually volunteer at one of the shelters for a while or a social service organization, and also go get his master’s degree in social work like I have and actually learn what the data shows about what is helpful to people experiencing homelessness, how the cycle of homelessness works, and what their life really is like, how being homeless for a year erases all your coping skills. There has never been enough funding to really do the job of homeless case manager thoroughly in Denver where I worked. I have two graduate degrees and made at the max, $28,000/a year with not good benefits and worked in a job that burns you out because never enough in any area of services needed, using my own car to get clients around to social services and potential housing, dealing with constant turnover at social services and advocacy organizations because- just like teachers – we are not paid decent wages and supported in the job. Those doing this work love it and the homeless population but we are not supported in it. For the homeless, it is not about a desire not to work at all. And many who are homeless are already working. The ignorance and lack of any real experience, education or ever working with the homeless population in any capacity – on this page and among people like Coffman – is astounding, smacks of arrogance and just plain sad.

tammy l Sillstrop
tammy l Sillstrop
1 month ago

I don’t think fixing the affordable housing problem will fix the street living problem. I think we have services in place that addresses some who are homeless and those people are being helped. Johnston has been great at supporting these services but the assertion that all street people are the same is the flaw. We can’t put blinders on and say it isn’t so. It is this other segment living on the street that are the majority of the problem. The ones that won’t get help and refuse the many, many people trying to help them. Maybe we need more ideas than just what Johnston supported.

Last edited 1 month ago by tammy l Sillstrop
Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago

When are people going to get it in their heads that most homeless persons want neither permanent housing nor a job. The streets are their home and their fellow homeless are their families. What is needed is intensive mental-health assistance. We need to quit dancing around the issues.

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe Felice

See my other comments on this page. You cannot generalize like that – really inaccurate statements that apply at most to small percentage of those experiencing homelessness.

DICK MOORE
DICK MOORE
1 month ago

Not long ago Mayor Coffman went to the streets as a homeless person to personally research homelessness. Doesn’t make him a expert but seems to me that gives him more of an idea of the problems than other Councilmen.

Nicole Johnston is moving out of our City before her time is up and continues to be negative towards our Mayor, it seems every week. How about you just fade away gracefully, Nicole and go wrangle with the Colorado Springs folks.

Nicole’s actions deserve criticism in almost all respects and homelessness is not an area that she understands. Probably less than our Mayor who she constantly picks at on this and any other subject.

Common Sense Mike
Common Sense Mike
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Amen Dick Moore !!!

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Another person with no experience, no understanding of the issues and problems, of the homeless population, of what the data shows is helpful and successful, and thinks hanging out in disguise for a couple of days and then pronouncing he is now the expert is helpful? I worked many years running a successful housing program out of The Gathering Place for women experiencing homelessness, using the Housing First Model. I was appalled when Coffman disguised himself a few months ago and hung out during the day for just a few days with people who are homeless, pretending he was one too. It was very cold out, and Coffman went home every night. After doing this a few days, he decided he was the expert on homelessness and announced they didn’t want to be housed and we should stop trying to help them – any of them – though he has no experience and has never worked to help the homeless or in the social work or advocacy area. I suggest he take a break from Mayor and go actually volunteer at one of the shelters for a while or a social service organization, and also go get his master’s degree in social work like I have and actually learn what the data shows about what is helpful to people experiencing homelessness, how the cycle of homelessness works, and what their life really is like, how people who are homeless for a year lose all coping skills, and how hard it is to come back from that. You might want to join Coffman at learning something before thinking you are the expert too. Nicole’s post actually showed a real understanding of homelessness and the Housing First Model and why it works.

Robert Chase
Robert Chase
30 days ago

Aurora has many problems — chief among them may be its Mayor.