PERRY: Now ‘Hopeless Mike’ pitches a failed camping ban to scatter the tents of homeless people

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Mayor Mike Coffman talks with CBS Channel 4 News Denver reporter Shaun Boyd after his week posing as a homeless vet last week. SCREEN GRAB

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.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]

 

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Dennis Duffy
Dennis Duffy
6 months ago

Okay we get it you care for others. I think most people do as well BUT what’s the Solution?

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
6 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Duffy

Ah, Dennis, THAT is the question. This is not a problem that is going away. In fact, it will probably get worse. A concerted discussion and plan by all the region’s cities will be required, but beyond that, we are waiting for someone to come up with solutions. It seems no-one individual has the solution (much less the Mayor), but maybe with a lot of genius heads together, a solution may emerge. I tell you–the city that comes up with a workable solution will be the greatest American city. Why not make that city Denver?

H. H. Cochran
H. H. Cochran
6 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Duffy

Housing. Ending tax breaks for second home owners would be a good sway to pay for it.

Last edited 6 months ago by H. H. Cochran
GeneD
6 months ago
Reply to  Dennis Duffy

Oh, a whole combination of things, Dennis. Tiny houses. Conversion of commercial spaces to residential units. Designated camping areas. All with bathing facilities and support services to get folk back into society and productive lives. But at the heart of it all must be a shift of mindset from seeing these folk as lazy spongers who enjoy their ‘lifestyle’ and want to stay that way. Of course there are mentally folk and drug addicts in the mix. Do we just abandon them?

We have much to make up to overcome the impact of the last 40 years of indifference and neglect of our social safety net. No child should be hungry, no one should be unhoused in our country. This is truly the time to ask what Jesus would do.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
6 months ago

The Mayor obviously doesn’t understand the real problem or the depth of it. A choice may have been made years ago that allowed one to become addicted, but once that happened, the person lost the ability to choose. The addiction controls his brain and thereby, his life. Instead of addressing homelessness, he seems to rail against drug use. Well, OK, we can all decry that, and then what? If a person thinks another can just put down his drugs and quit, he is sadly mistaken. So those folks should not be discriminated against on that basis.

But here’s the thing: In this Country, people have the mistaken notion that if you separate out each group that is different from them and punish them severely enough by making life as difficult as possible, the people in those groups will see the light and change in a way that conforms with the peoples’ narrative. Somehow, if we mistreat people of color enough they will change, right? If we make life too difficult for Gays, they will change. Maybe we can affect sexual identity in the same way. I really believe that’s the mentality of many people. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way, and is not the way to solve any problem.

DICK MOORE
6 months ago

Mayor Mike does so much more for the citizens of Aurora, as the leader of our government, than you do, Dave, as the leader of our only newspaper in the City.

You insult so many people by your editorials, that you don’t respect, such as the Mayor, Conservatives and the APD and praise so many folks that many of Aurora citizens don’t respect, such as card carrying socialists, protesters and drug addicts.

Then you beg for money for your newspaper on this website. Seems, to me, you might not be seeing the big picture.

Please, Mayor keep up the good fight for the long term betterment of our City. Most of us who really care about our community understand that homeless camps bring down the level of quality of life for Aurora citizens.

H. H. Cochran
H. H. Cochran
6 months ago

Sleeping under a bridge with all belongings in a shopping cart is not a “lifestyle choice.” It is a survival mechanism that costs victim and society dearly. Out of sight solutions solve nothing.

Eugene Huyett
Eugene Huyett
6 months ago

Okay well what about the people that are not drug addicts???? I live in my car due to the pandemic I was forced out of my home because I lost my job and unemployment didn’t kick in in time, I also live by myself I have no other income but myself,it’s really something how people push the blame into something that it’s not really happening, and I have a full-time job.that because of the pandemic people are hesitant to read because of the pandemic and I have my vaccinations

Debra MacKillop
Debra MacKillop
5 months ago

I worked as a social worker case manager and counselor for years in Denver running a housing program for women experiencing homelessness. I was as an employee at The Gathering Place and the housing portion of my work was funded by Denver’s Road Home, though my employment otherwise was paid and supported by my nonprofit agency. We did really good work and helped over 600 women get more self-sufficient and over 400 get housed and maintain housing (that’s as important as getting the housing in first place), and get the services that help self-sufficiency. That’s just from my program from one agency. Agencies like The Gathering Place do excellent work based on science and data with highly-trained, experienced, caring, City-service connected staff. I also helped women from surrounding areas, even place some in Boulder – wherever we could find good affordable housing and services. So much goes into this work, and every homeless person is different, needs individualized help, and maybe for a long time to really get self-sufficient, and some will always needs some helpful services. Homelessness is a cycle like domestic violence that is hard to finally break away from and a year of homelessness is so traumatizing that people lose their coping skills along with everything they own and everyone they know. These are the most vulnerable in our midst. They spend their day figuring out where to be safely that night, don’t get decent meals or enough water, don’t get medical issues looked at, have no transportation to get to potential services, lose their ID or have it stolen, and the system is hard to navigate even if you are not homeless. In forums like this, no one wants to actually learn from the agencies and case managers who do this work and understand it and the tools that have helped and the approaches that have been failures. You all keep suggesting many things that have been proven to be harmful and ineffective. When Denver held hearings on the camping ban, all city agencies and many advocates and many homeless or formerly homeless testified against the ban using scientific studies and the World Health Organization studies showing that criminalizing homelessness is very harmful – the worst thing you can do – yet the Denver Council wanted to please the 16th St Mall merchants and passed the ban. It’s been overturned by the courts and Denver appealed. Working with the homeless is an honor. Most of my clients as soon as they got even a little self-sufficient would ask how they could help others and were very grateful. Many have children, many actually have a job but still homeless.
Many many are vets. Leaders, and the rest of the population, if interested, should all go volunteer for a little with one of the agencies serving homeless and learn from the experts, and then adequately fund the programs and pay a living wage to the case workers so there is not so much turnover and burn-out. We will never have no homeless – they’ve been with us since the Civil War when severe displacement occurred and many of them are vets (we do not actually treat vets well in the US). But we could do a lot better if we are willing to learn, fund, and support current programs we already have and build on them.

Last edited 5 months ago by Debra MacKillop