No one wants homeless people camping under Aurora bridges, in parks, on highway exit ramps or in town squares and medians.
But shuffling people without homes — often drowning in addiction, mental illness or catastrophic despair — from one campsite to another, over and over, does not end homeless encampments nor get homeless people off the streets.
It only makes their grim lives and the crisis of homelessness in Aurora and the region worse.
You don’t have to look far to see how homeless bans have repeatedly failed. Look anywhere in the metro area that’s tried it. Denver has a failed defective ban. Boulder, rife with people who are homeless and living behind businesses, in parks and even among tony shopping centers, are testaments to the uselessness of “banning” people from living on the streets because they have no place else to go.
Not only does shooing homeless people from one campsite to another just complicate their lives, it eats up already overtaxed police forces, courts and jails. Officials from all of those agencies have repeatedly made clear that people camping on highway medians and along creek banks is a serious community crisis, not a criminal issue.
Despite all this, Mayor Mike Coffman wants to bring back his failed homeless camping ban. City council narrowly defeated the measure about six months ago.
Coffman last week said in a tweet that he’s resurrecting the measure, even though it’s nothing more than a populist chimera.
Under Coffman’s plan, the measure would outlaw unauthorized camping by homeless people. Once identified, police would be dispatched to the encampment. Cops would then cite people there, a time-consuming and complicated feat. The lack of identification among homeless people is a notorious and complicated tragedy. Instead, police would spend a great deal of time documenting campers and their plight.
After that, homeless campers are given seven days to leave their campsite.
On the seventh day, police return and either fine the campers or arrest them, something police and local jail officials have strongly pushed back on.
And where do homeless campers go when they’re chased off? Another campsite.
These people are not criminals. They stole from no one. They injured no one. They threatened no one. They are desperately troubled, often mentally ill and absent the money or support to find their way back to even flailing poverty.
People naive to the realities of drug and alcohol addiction dismiss it, equating meth and heroin addictions to bad manners or a lack of self-discipline.
Coffman’s assurances that homeless camping will not be criminalized is actually just double-talk.
The proposed law clearly states that scofflaws face fines and jail. Coffman merely asserts that, faced with jail or summons, every homeless person will just move on to yet another park, bike trail or alley, rather than be shuffled into incarceration.
Aurora police and officials from both Adams and Arapahoe counties will tell you that’s not true, and that local jails are not equipped nor designed to be rehab centers for addicts, mental health hospitals nor social services centers to get the downtrodden back on track.
Coffman is correct, however, in saying that the bulk of these homeless people will just move on — right down the street or across town and start the endless circle of public homelessness and harassment all over again.
The biggest ruse is debate over what this measure would or wouldn’t do.
It would do nothing.
That’s because the measure can’t take effect until there are adequate shelter resources for every homeless person threatened with citation or jail.
It’s unclear exactly how many hundreds of visibly homeless people live in Aurora streets, parks, medians and parking lots. But what is certain is that even after recent modest efforts to increase shelter and sanctioned tent resources, there are far too few to meet the need. And the need is growing.
Rather than perpetuate this theater, Coffman and everyone on the Aurora City Council should work toward a regional effort to vastly increase the number of safe, clean individual and group shelters and resources needed to accommodate people who cannot pay for housing because even working full time, it’s just not feasible. The shelters have to accommodate people with drug addictions, which are not cured in a police car or jail cell.
And for those who insist that drug addicts and alcoholics are only their own problem, and not Aurora’s, constantly moving them will eventually make their addiction and homeless your problem, too.
A regional solution must face the fact that unregulated public encampments are dangerous for the residents and the rest of the public alike. We agree with Coffman and others, it must end.
But the answer first must do something, and it must treat the issue with the pragmatism and humanity it calls for.
Shooing homeless people from one park or sidewalk to another, and eventually into jail, is far more costly in tax dollars and human misery than creating shelters and programs to end homelessness and treat addiction now.