‘Completely unacceptable’: Aurora region leaders condemn mayor Mike Coffman for homelessness ‘stunt’

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AURORA | Fallout continued Thursday after Mayor Mike Coffman posed as a homeless person on the streets for a week. Some Aurora city councilmembers joined officials from the Denver metro region in a virtual news conference to condemn the mayor and call for more robust strategies to tackle homelessness. 

“I think he should issue a formal apology for it. It’s completely unacceptable,” said Englewood City Councilmember John Stone, who said he was homeless between the ages of 16 and 21. “…I was homeless for five years. And Mayor Coffman believes that I am a hopeless case,” he said. 

Stone and others took issue with Coffman’s conclusions about homelessness after spending seven days in Aurora and Denver as “Homeless Mike” for an exclusive CBS4 news segment. In the heavily-criticized TV appearance, Coffman called homelessness a “choice.”

“These encampments are not the product of an economy under COVID, they are not a product of rental rates, housing. They are a product of, of, a drug culture,” Coffman said in the segment. 

Amid a wave of criticism, Coffman issued a “clarification” that he thought homeless people chose to sleep either in shelters or outdoors. The mayor has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Sentinel

In a second CBS4 appearance Coffman said “well-meaning” people who bring food to homeless residents are only “prolonging” a lifestyle of drug abuse.

Stone and others, including former city homelessness program director Shelley McKittrick, condemned the mayor for the “stunt.”

“You cannot just dip your toe in and out of homelessness,” said Eva Henry, an Adams County commissioner who said she lived on the verge of homelessness as a single mom. 

McKittrick and other advocates for homeless people echoed extensive research that chronic homelessness is a complex issue with roots in poverty, trauma, drug abuse, mental health issues, including PTSD and more. 

The city’s former homelessness chief noted one study, from researchers at Princeton University, that found Aurora ranked 33rd among all U.S. cities for the most evictions. 

During the meeting, officials from across the metro area said they are committed to a regional approach of tackling homelessness. 

Coffman has also announced seeking a partnership with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. Homeless advocates have long criticized Hancock for defending the city’s “camping ban” preventing outdoor residents from covering themselves for protection against the elements.  

In the past, Coffman has floated establishing a camping ban in Aurora as well. Visible homelessness and outdoor encampments have become more widespread in Aurora during the pandemic. 

McKittrick said that, before she resigned in September, city authorities would routinely move encampments because of neighbors’ complaints. The city’s current community development manager, Jessica Prosser, said during the news conference that police and other officials won’t “sweep” a camp unless it’s a public health or safety concern; research has linked breaking up camps to COVID-19 spread. 

Coffman’s newfound policy ideas will have to be approved by the city council in Aurora’s government system. The mayor does not direct policy or have administrative power and can only break tie votes on city laws. 

This winter, the city opened an emergency shelter for homeless people. With Mile High Behavioral Healthcare as its partner, the city also funds a network of shelters, health and mental health supports, housing programs, rent assistance and more for people living on the streets or at risk of losing their home.

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Hsto
Hsto
3 months ago

LMAO…these people are angry because the mayor went on the street and found out the truth for himself. It is true that there are some down on their luck people who are homeless but most of them are living in their vehicles or couch surfing. A few end up in shelters. There are also some mentally ill people in the mix and it’s likely that some became mentally ill from living on the streets. The vast majority of those living on the streets have huge substance abuse problems which is the root cause of them living on the street. Most won’t take help with their substance abuse problem even if it’s offered. Some showed up in Colorado with only one plan, to smoke weed. As the mayor said, many could work but choose not to do so. Some of the programs that have been set up are completely useless. The Colorado Commission for the Homeless is among the worst. They insist on only accepting the very worst. Those with the most police contact and severe substance abuse problems for the most part. The organization then rents entire apartment buildings and puts these persons in apartments without supervision or any mandate for substance abuse treatment. Usually these buildings are in economically depressed areas and adjacent to other apartment buildings. You can guess what happens from there. Police and nearby residents have to deal with all the problems until the building owner is forced to evict. I have personally argued with members of this organization about this approach. They could be assisting people who are recently homeless and families to get them out of vehicles or shelters. Placing severely addicted persons into a building without supervision is an extremely poor approach. How do I know all of this? More than 38 years as a police officer dealing with these issues is how I know. The mayor is telling the truth. Too many people operate on feelings instead of truth.

Hsto
Hsto
3 months ago

That should have been Colorado Coalition for the Homeless…not “commission.”

Hsto
Hsto
3 months ago

LMAO…these people crying have no idea what they are talking about. They are operating on feelings rather than truth. The mayor went out and found the truth. Yes, there are a few people who are down on their luck and become homeless but they are a small minority. Most of these folks couch surf, live in their vehicles, or in some cases go to shelters. The majority of them would not feel safe in a homeless encampment. There are also some who are mentally ill and it’s likely that some became mentally ill while living on the streets. Living on the streets is a very difficult life and especially so in a climate like Colorado. The vast majority of the homeless are extreme substance abusers. Their problems and their lives center around alcohol and/or drugs. It is at the root of most homelessness and anyone saying different is not being honest or has no idea what they speak of. Many of these persons will not accept help for substance abuse even when it is offered. Some of the programs are a waste of resources and what I believe is a disservice to the community. For example, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has a record of renting apartment buildings in economically depressed areas and then placing homeless persons into apartments. The problem with their approach is that they only take persons with a large record of police contacts and severe substance abuse problems. That might be okay except that they place them into these buildings mostly unsupervised and without any mandate for treatment. You can imagine what kind of problems that creates for nearby residents and the police. In each case I am aware of it ended with the owner of the building being forced to end their association with the organization and evicting the placed persons. It would make far more sense to place those who are newly homeless, living in their vehicles, etc. to help them get back on their feet and free up space in shelters for the chronic homeless who are suffering addiction issues. I have personally argued with members of this organization regarding their approach. How do I know the truth about most homeless persons? I spent 38 years in law enforcement dealing with these issues. You can get mad at the mayor if you choose but I applaud him because he went and discovered the truth. Public policy should be formed and operate on truth rather than feelings and emotions. Anyone who has spent any time among homeless persons recognizes the truth and can do so while still being empathetic and offering support to a better path if they choose to do so.

Michael
Michael
3 months ago

At least Mayor Coffman did something. The rest of these blowhard’s talk the talk but, don’t walk the walk. I give the Mayor credit for at least trying to learn and understand. Council members Marcano and Combs wouldn’t survive 30 seconds out there. They sit at home behind their desks trying to understand what the real issues are. Give us a break! Do something – anything! Mayor Mike may not always make the best choices but, this one he got right.

Tiffany
Tiffany
3 months ago

Pretending to be homeless for a week to proclaim all-knowing omniscience over a complex, worldwide struggle is at once an extremely ill-advised PR stunt and a display of complete lack of empathy, humility, humanity and grace.

Joe Hardhat
Joe Hardhat
3 months ago

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman should be commended for ‘due diligence’ in his personal observation of the local homeless problem. First hand knowledge is more valuable than conjecture and listening to a diverse range of opinions and so-called facts. Most homelessness is due to mental health issues, and staying homeless is a life style choice and entrenched life long character flaws.

Brent G Taylor
Brent G Taylor
3 months ago

I disagree with those condemning Coffman for doing this “research.” It has been transparent. No one was harmed; it was his choice to engage in what could be risky behavior (given his military background, this was minimized). He is entitled to his opinion of the homeless situation — with or without this “research.” We (everyone, other so called experts) are able to accept or reject his conclusions. Mostly I find nothing wrong with city leaders “seeing for themselves” any facet of what goes on in the city — feeling any amount time beats no time at all (re: was a week enough).

Last edited 3 months ago by Brent G Taylor
Hsto
Hsto
3 months ago

Strange how my comment supporting the mayor was apparently deleted.