Meet Hopeless Mike.
Mayor Mike Coffman seems determined to milk the tragic plight of people living in Aurora without homes for what he must perceive as political gain.
Coffman on Monday unexpectedly announced via Twitter that he would soon unveil a proposed camping ban in the city.
Hold your slow clap for a minute.
Coffman, aka “Homeless Mike,” took that moniker a few months ago when he posed as a homeless veteran and spent about a week staying and wandering through a smattering of homeless encampments along the Aurora-Denver Colfax corridor. It was a made-for-TV-event that really was a made-for-TV event. Coffman coordinated the show with CBS Channel 4 TV reporter Shaun Boyd, who dubbed Coffman, “Homeless Mike.”
His takeaway, after seven days of immersion among a few camps, was that most of the residents were drug addicts and alcoholics who choose to live homeless in squalid street encampments to accommodate their addictions.
“These encampments are not a product of the economy or COVID. They’re not a product of rental rates or housing. They are part of a drug culture,” he told TV reporter Shaun Boyd in January. “It is a lifestyle choice, and it is a very dangerous lifestyle choice.”
Those who have no homes because of addiction and those who spend their lives working with fallen people in an attempt to help them back up don’t dispute how dangerous all this is for everyone. But they also don’t dismiss the fact there are thousands of people without homes living in tents or boxes on public areas. Local homelessness experts estimate it to be more than 6,000.
These experts don’t dispute that if all the people in encampments magically ended their addictions and walked to the nearest shelter for a bed and a job, there would be no room.
Homeless Mike’s TV show was short-lived. Aurora city staffers, council members and regional homelessness experts went back to work on a comprehensive plan that offers a wide range of ways to end the metro area’s wretched camps. They’re in the end stages of the plans that include offering various types of housing and services to treat addiction, mental illness and provide options to permanently find a home.
As experts have come to find and agree, the problem of homelessness is complicated, regional and varied. There is no single solution, and none of them are easy.
Coffman, however, responded with tweets that homeless people should not be offered housing or services — unless they’re sober and get a job.
It’s confusing how all that would work with a homeless camping ban. Coffman believes most of these people are addicts, who shouldn’t be allowed in area shelters unless they quit the meth and heroin that is greatly responsible for their no longer having a home. So if Aurora bans the camps, and precludes the campers from a shelter, Coffman’s plan sends them to — where?
We know where. Denver’s camping ban was also a dismal and utter failure that pushed waves of people without homes into Aurora, Arvada, Lakewood and even the Cherry Creek State Park. They hid under bridges, behind Dumpsters in the alleys and deep inside highway viaducts. Where they didn’t go was — away.
Coffman’s understanding of homelessness and drug addiction hearkens back to the debunked trope of the “welfare queen” myth. Reagan Republicans believed that, given the choice, “those people” just want to get on the dole and watch game shows all day. Make them get a job.
Camping bans are as much a solution to the problem of urban homelessness as Trump’s wall is a solution to illegal immigration. It’s a trite sideshow that enthralls the talk-radio set who don’t care what happens to “those people.” They just don’t want to see it.
Hopeless Mike says that if you “Give a Pig a Pancake,” they’ll eat them on Fletcher Plaza and demand extra syrup. Monday night, Aurora City Council members said they weren’t having it anymore and took turns calling Coffman out for the stunt, according to a story by Sentinel staff writer Kara Mason. His defense was word salad.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how one homeless man fighting addiction was stymied by the nearly impossible quest for a Colorado ID. Along the way to understanding Brian’s story, I spoke with numerous other people without homes. Addictions or not, not one of them liked living in a tent and sleeping on concrete. None of them.
Their addictions ran their lives, not their “choices.” The simplistic and vastly inaccurate understanding of the scope and complexity of the homelessness and addiction quagmire is counter to Coffman’s insistence that “those people” are just hopeless druggies and must be treated like a feral cat problem: Don’t feed them, and just keep shooing them off until they agree to become acceptable pets somewhere else.
The quandary surrounding people without homes in Aurora is dire, but it’s not hopeless. Rather than seeking another TV or Twitter moment to feel engaged in the issue, Coffman should work with the dozens of city and regional officials who’ve been in the trenches for months and even years, and not an REI sleeping bag for a few days, minutes from a nice Aurora home.
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