Erin Kay, front, Mikhail Smith, center, and Bob Dorshimer, right, check on a homeless person at a large camp in Aurora, April 21. Kay and Smith are on the Street Outreach Team for Mile High Behavioral Health and Dorshimer is the CEO of MHBHC. Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

This just in from City Hall: Banning people from being homeless does not prevent homelessness.

Who knew?

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.

Who knew?

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.

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5 replies on “PERRY: Coming soon to Aurora — Coffman Heights, a workfare solution for deserving homeless campers ”

  1. Despite its sloppy branding as “Work first,” nothing I’ve heard or seen in this proposal says people would have to “get a job” before they enter the program.

    Participants simply have to buy into treatment and take steps toward recovery. “Work” to get better. In other words, they would have to have skin in the game. To characterize it as you do is either uninformed, disingenuous, or outright deceptive.

  2. Just get a job first. Okay, let me ask you: lf you were a business owner would you hire any of these people to work in your establishment? Therein lies your answer.

    1. Joe, Thats where the city comes in. Aurora parks and rec hires from the Bridge House Ready to Work – crew. So, the city of Aurora HR dept could also set up a work fair day, and this programs biggest employer. I’m surprised some on council have not asked the city staffs input and recommendations. And how the Parks and Rec idea has worked?

  3. Here’s the real question –

    What do we do with the people who won’t (or can’t) work? Who won’t (or can’t) help themselves or as Bergan says “self-actualize”? Because according to Coffman’s own conclusion after his “experiment” with homeless costumes, all the people on the streets in Aurora are “choosing this lifestyle” because they’re just lazy or antisocial or its awesome and fun to be homeless. So what is Coffman’s point in spending kajillions of taxpayer dollars on a plan that (according to his own “theory” of homelessness) isn’t going to be effective, because all those “lazy” kids just really wanna live that life? Even by Coffman’s weird fever dream logic that he made up, work first wouldn’t be effective at reducing the number of homeless people, because according to him all those people could have just gotten jobs already and they didn’t, right?

    Let’s map this out really simply, in Coffman Logic(tm):

    PROBLEM: All the homeless are lazy and they don’t want jobs. They could have jobs and that would make ’em not homeless anymore, but they won’t take ’em because being homeless is a real sweet deal. They’re gonna keep living this real awesome life just because they like it, it’s a choice, and they don’t care if all the suburban dads and PTA moms think they’re gross. They love it, it’s a sweet deal because they get to do free drugs and never work and panhandling is a fun hobby.
    SOLUTION: Tell them to get jobs. They could’ve had them before, but now Mike Coffman told ’em to do it, so they’re gonna change their mind for some… reason…? They’re going to trade in their super fun homeless life for a job that they didn’t want before. This was all their choice the whole time, and now they’re gonna make a different choice. The end.

    Maybe instead of trusting the idiot politician who wore a hobo costume one time and literally openly admitted that he just wants to campaign on people’s fear and hatred of homelessness, we should consider trusting the experts and data from real homelessness and real professionals who have studied the problem. He’s wrong about the problem and he’s wrong about the solution, and he literally benefits if he keeps being wrong – because if this plan doesn’t work and there are still homeless people annoying voters next year, that’s good, because he can campaign on another useless camping ban again!

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