Homelessness has been a long-standing problem in Aurora and the Denver metro area. We were one of the first jurisdictions in the state to allocate cannabis tax proceeds toward homelessness in 2016 to support several nonprofit community services, all of whom do excellent work, to manage the issue of homelessness in our city.
These important services have kept many Aurorans from becoming homeless, have kept Aurorans who find themselves without shelter warm in the winter, have fed unhoused Aurorans when they are hungry, and have even helped some Aurorans attain housing after losing it.
What we didn’t do at the time was dedicate resources towards solving the problem at the scale necessary to keep our unhoused population from growing year after year, as evidenced by the number of unhoused folks we see daily throughout our city. We need to address the problem at the root while ensuring we have a full continuum of care to get folks from the streets back to sustainable housing.
We know the leading causes of homelessness are rising rents, unexpected job loss, poverty, and stagnant wages. Substance abuse is a smaller part of the overall problem. A recent survey of people experiencing chronic homelessness from the Englewood, Sheridan, and Littleton corroborates this national-level data.
The formula for solving chronic homelessness is simple — provide housing and wrap-around services at a faster rate than the unhoused population can grow. This approach will allow us to catch up with the unhoused population we currently have and ensure we stay ahead of its growth.
The real challenge is getting the political will to commit to scaling up to solve the problem.
Safe outdoor camping spaces and other temporary sheltering solutions are the first step toward closing the shelter deficit for our unhoused population, but the housing deficit will take longer as it requires much larger upfront capital investment and inter-jurisdictional partnerships. These housing solutions should use both the housing-first framework (best represented in Aurora by Providence at the Heights) and the work-first framework (best represented in Aurora by Bridge House’s Ready to Work program). From Denver to Helsinki, we know this approach works, we need to support these efforts at the scale necessary to reduce the chronically homeless population to zero.
What we know doesn’t work are “camping bans” and other attempts to criminalize homelessness. Anyone who has visited Denver over the past 9 years can see for themselves just how ineffective this policy is. Mayor Mike Coffman also knows that camping bans do not work. He has admitted on a radio show that he knows this. So, the question then is why is he pushing this failed policy? Well, he’s answered that for us already.
Mayor Coffman also admitted on conservative talk radio that he is using homelessness as a wedge issue for the purposes of helping elect a conservative majority to the dais of our diverse, progressive city. In short, he’s selling Aurorans desperate political power play instead of working together with city staff and council to solve the problem.
Aurorans: you deserve so much better than cynical ploys such as this “ban.” Rather than playing whack-a-mole with camps indefinitely, I am asking you to demand evidence-based public policy from your city government that will move people out of homelessness and into housing.
Juan Marcano is the Ward IV representative on the Aurora City Council. Reach him at [email protected]