This just in from City Hall: Banning people from being homeless does not prevent homelessness.
Actually, the same people elected to run Aurora who brought you the city’s useless ban on homeless camping were told by a bevy of experts and their political opponents on the council dais that homeless camping bans do nothing but shuffle people around who are already barely existing.
Despite the warning here and proof of such failures in just about every city in the country that has tried to ban homeless people from camping, Mayor Mike Coffman and council members Dustin Zvonek, Steve Sundberg, Francoise Bergan, Curtis Gardner, Danielle Jurinsky and Angela Lawson voted about six months ago to give it a shot.
Most of the supporters of outlawing homeless campers buy into Coffman’s view of the problem. It’s a mythology he created almost two years ago when he infamously pretended to be homeless for a week. He went camping along the Colfax corridor in a made-for-TV moment with a Channel 4 TV reporter.
His takeaway is that the vast majority of homeless people are drug addicts that prefer doing drugs and sleeping on sidewalks or dumpsters instead of getting a job and getting it together.
So earlier this year, on a conservative versus liberal split on the city council, lawmakers agreed to evict homeless people sleeping at unsanctioned camping sites along highways and behind buildings, taking their drug and camping preferences someplace else.
And they have. The people whose job it is to work with homeless people in hopes of getting them off the streets, off drugs or on real medications, say consistently that Aurora is for the most part just shuffling dozens or more of homeless campers around the city.
Homeless experts here, and just about everywhere, unanimously insist that the best way to end the scourge of homelessness is to give people a place to live.
Actually, the same people who told Aurora conservatives on city council that camping bans do nothing to end homelessness also told them that offering up realistic places to live does reduce what has become a national and local scourge.
Late to the party, Coffman last week proposed a new city program that would offer those kinds of practical homes to homeless people in an effort to get them off the street, permanently.
What a fabulous idea.
Coffman and others have pitched a scheme to create a place teeming with tiny Pallet homes, winter-sturdy tents, health care, addiction-treatment, social workers, case managers and all kinds of assistance to help people fix their broken lives and prevent being injured or even killed living on the streets.
Sure, the plan calls for a single “campus” in some part of the city yet to be awarded the honor of having an entire village dedicated to people scooped up from parks, friends couches and cars parked behind strip malls.
Run efficiently and with enough resources, this could be a model neighborhood for the entire nation. Run poorly and cheaped-out, this could make the infamous Washington Hoovervilles of the 1930s look like Ptarmigan Place on South Peoria Street.
But there’s a catch.
Coffman has persuaded the same people who brought you Aurora’s famous homeless camping ban to set forth a commandment for anyone wanting to come and live the good life at Aurora’s someday-to-open Coffman Heights.
They must get a job.
“What we ought to do on the campus is focus our resources on those that want to change their behavior, those who want to do something affirmative to change their behavior, to participate in addiction recovery and mental health (programs),” Coffman said last week.
As if sleeping in a community with a bathroom instead of behind a Dumpster isn’t an “affirmative” change in behavior.
Coffman and his supporters suffer from the age-old Protestant delusion that people bring on their own troubles because of sloth.
Our culture is thick with memes and cliches that feed into this myth. “Pulled himself up by his own bootstraps,” “…teach a man a fish….” “God helps those who help themselves.”
It’s the mantra of people who feel they’ve worked hard all their lives and those in trouble just didn’t.
In reality, people become addicted to drugs or alcohol, alienate everyone around them, become unable to work or even care for themselves and live in tents along busy streets, unable to do anything more than that. To insist that any addict “chooses” a lifelong partnership with heroin or fentanyl is desperately naive and plays well on “My Three Sons” reruns, but not in real life.
Lots of people, living hand to mouth already, just lose a job or a car, then their home and with no savings find themselves living in a park in a matter of weeks. Many are women and children, booted by a spouse and unable to keep it together by making even more than minimum wage in a city unaffordable for anyone making under $48,000 a year.
“Workfare” is a failed holdover from House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, which Coffman had a part in as a member of Congress.
They picture something like an episode out of “The Waltons,” where John Boy’s daddy is just so happy to be offered the dignity of a job in exchange for a free place to live, for a short time, that he bankrolls his self-worth into a three-bedroom ranch in Village Green.
Endless vetted studies, many curated by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities consistently show that benefits from forced-work requirements tied to any kind of social benefits are either short-lived, or the programs created lives of working poverty for people forced to work before they can get off the street.
It’s not an issue of nuance, it’s a gaping flaw in the plan.
The goal here is to address homelessness. Despite Coffman’s insistence, people without homes really don’t want to sleep on sidewalks or risk being robbed or murdered camping along greenbelt trails. They don’t want to start tweaking every few hours, driven to find just enough heroin to keep from losing their minds or lives. They don’t want to spend hours begging for enough change to buy enough gas for their car so they don’t freeze to death in January.
A lot of people without homes need serious help and intervention before they can even begin to look for work. It’s not because they’re lazy. It’s because they’re sick or lost, far, far, beyond being able to rally from a pep talk and some clean clothes.
Coffman and his fellow conservatives are on the right track in creating a place where homelessness isn’t banned, and, instead, it’s ended by offering a place for people to live.
It makes sense that the goal is to get homeless people into stable places to live and help them become self-sufficient. The reality is that the very people camping all over Aurora streets that Coffman and others are so focused on are probably the worst candidates for getting a job before they get serious help.
And so we’re headed right back to where we are now, spending millions on a camping ban that doesn’t work in addition to a Coffman Heights homeless settlement that does next to nothing to address what causes so much consternation among Aurora conservatives: public camping and begging.