I hate to discard the wisdom of not poking the barely cogent plan on how to handle the region’s growing problem with homelessness, but somebody has to hold up the dare.
Most of Aurora, and everyone who has anything to do with city hall, breathed a sigh of relief two weeks ago when Mayor Mike Coffman’s zombie-ban-on-homeless-camping was finally voted out of its misery.
For now. After months of the proposal getting a thumbs down in city council meetings, Coffman said the measure will be back after an imposed six-month hiatus.
Coffman made public in January that the plight of the unhoused would be his cause celebre, plying an unhinged stunt to kick off his legislative waterloo.
The Aurora mayor collaborated with Channel 4 reporter Shaun Boyd to watch from afar as he pretended to be “Homeless Mike” for a week, camping in camps of homeless people in the area.
Beset with ethical problems, and the reality that one week away from a southeast Aurora house does not a homeless person make, Coffman concluded a cavalcade of cliches. The homeless tropes then prompted Coffman to produce a proposal that has been proven time and again to be absolutely worthless.
Coffman, backed by exactly half of the city council, sees homelessness and public camping as an eyesore and nuisance rather than the symptom of a complicated and growing problem.
First, the people you see packing medians, parks and even town squares with tents and boxes are but a few of the thousands of people in the region who have no house of their own. Out of sight, mostly, are the crowds of people who sleep in their cars, the couch of anyone who will let them, inside packed shelters, even at their jobs and worksites.
Coffman told the Channel 4 reporter during a post-homeless taping that in just seven days, he can himself a man who understands all he needs to know about people in parks who won’t ever go home.
He became Homeless Mike on a mission to out the region’s “so-called experts,” and supplant their research with his seven-day doctorate.
Coffman concluded that almost everyone sleeping in the path of regular people are drug addicts and living the high life as a choice, instead of as a consequence. Too many like Coffman confuse the exorbitant cost of housing, abusive house-mates and unlivable wages as “choices.”
Just last month, the average cost of renting an apartment rose 3%. Just in one month.
We have created a city of people slipping further away from the middle class and another community that feels like “I got mine.”
Coffman came to the same, erroneous conclusion that dozens of city officials across the country have reached: The city must tell homeless campers they just can’t.
I can promise you, and an army of police and homeless advocates can attest, that chasing homeless people away and around does not reduce the population of homeless campers. It simply moves them along, either closer to you or closer to someone else.
That’s reality. Coffman’s plan was fantasy.
The argument for plans like Coffman’s is that the “other side” of the issue just wants to let homeless people camp wherever they want.
That’s a delusion, too.
I don’t know anyone who thinks we should stand by and let hundreds and hundreds of people, many mentally ill, escaping violence or trafficking, drug addicted and downtrodden, to live in dangerous squalor across the metroplex.
The problem we have now isn’t just a growing problem of folks sans homes, the Aurora metroplex is virtually beset by a wave of refugees, who’ve joined those ranks for myriad reasons. This is not an Aurora or Denver problem. It’s a statewide problem.
Out of the spirit of our common humanity and out of plain decency, Gov. Jared Polis and the state need to lead a collaboration of counties and cities to create decent places for the exploding number of homeless refugees to safely stay as they’re guided back into lives that include their own homes.
This is going to cost a lot of money. But common sense, and even recent research looking at a double-blind study in Denver, reveals that the overall cost to taxpayers is reduced just by providing homes to people, whether they have addictions, violent ex-husbands or parents or bad luck.
In the midst of the pandemic, any social problem dismissed from the public stage creates a welcomed but temporary relief. But chasing this problem rather than solving it will only make it worse for all of us.
Rather than just say no, the rest of the metro area and Aurora lawmakers need to put forth a plan of their own to argue for, rather than create risk by just arguing against.
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