Aurora lawmakers on Monday taking up beleaguered ban on homeless camping

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    An RTD train passes by a homeless camp at Sand Creek Park, June 1, 2021. 
    Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado

    AURORA | Aurora lawmakers are slated to formally take up a bill that would allow the city to force people without homes, camping on public property, to abandon their encampment within 72 hours — if there are openings in city shelters.

    The measure was turned back last week by a tie vote during a city council study session, making it clear that bill author Mayor Mike Coffman did not have the support on city council to pass it into law.

    Coffman and other city lawmakers said they have received increased calls from constituents complaining about people without homes camping in city parks, on rights of way and other public places.

    Last year, federal health officials effectively forbade local governments from forcing “unauthorized” campers away in an effort help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. To close, or sweep, a camp, city and health officials must identify a clear and immediate health or safety threat. Both Denver, Aurora and other regional municipalities have been loathe to close the camps in the past 17 months, unless public health conditions become critical.

    Coffman’s proposal would immediately allow city managers to begin closing the homeless encampments without showing an imminent health hazard. Revisions to the bill now include a caveat for closure, based on available space in local homeless shelters for each person tagged in a camp closure.

    The bill says encampments cannot be closed until each resident is notified, permitted to move away within 72 hours after notice, and only if there are openings in local shelters.

    Opponents of the bill said Aurora currently doesn’t have a clear picture of how many people without homes are currently living in Aurora encampments, estimating it is at least in the hundreds, far above the city’s countable homeless shelter offerings.

    Councilman Juan Marcano said last week that without a clear understanding of what the scope of problem is and what shelter resources are available, the measure would do little or nothing to end the encampments or get people into temporary or permanent homes.

    “My real issue with this is I don’t see how anything fundamentally changes,” Marcano said at the city council study session last night before the proposal was scuttled.

    Other critics on city council said the measure would still “criminalize” homelessness, even though the measure specifically forbids the city from ticketing scofflaws for ignoring orders to abandon their camps. Refusal to leave, however, could then become a criminal trespassing issue, critics said.

    Proponents of the bill said the issue of unauthorized camping has become so widespread and dangerous for camp inhabitants and nearby residents that it calls for immediate action.

    Councilperson Crystal Murillo said the bill ignores years of work the city and others in the region have done trying to better understand the scope and complexity of the problem and employ solutions targeted at ending the problem rather than just trying to keep it out of the public’s view.

    City Council is slated to take up the bill during its regular Monday meeting at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 9. The meeting is held virtually and the public can watch it on Aurora Cable Channel 8 or livestream it from www.auroratv.org/watch-auroratv-live. As an ordinance requiring a public hearing, members of the public are able to call in with comment. To comment on this or other public matters:

    • Call the live public comment line at 855-695-3475. When connected, press “*3” to reach an operator. The operator will ask which item the caller would like to speak on and place callers in the queue for that item.

    • The public comment line opens at 6 p.m. the day of the council meeting.

    Further instructions are announced during the city council meeting.

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    Dennis Duffy
    Dennis Duffy
    3 months ago

    If we can house and care for a million illegal immigrants coming in our southern border we should be able to offer some sort of accomodation for our own citizens. At a minimum there should be access to public restrooms, ability to clean clothes. Have warm clothing, basic human needs… perhaps there should be a rotating area or encampment located in different parts if our city that changes month by month. Then no particular neighborhood would feel burdened unfairly but these people are our fellow Americans, although I don’t know what we would do once the homeless illegals arrive…but we need to do it soon, winter is coming….

    Doug King
    Doug King
    3 months ago
    Reply to  Dennis Duffy

    The Feds handle the border. The City handles the homeless. But good points.

    Brent G Taylor
    Brent G Taylor
    3 months ago
    Reply to  Dennis Duffy

    Vacant land, porta-potties, park a water tanker out there.

    Jponce
    Jponce
    3 months ago

    I’m all for it, however, steps should be taken to help them find affordable housing. In the state of Colorado, that seems like an oxymoron. Perhaps one problem begets the other. Maybe the good mayor should look at them both.

    Brent G Taylor
    Brent G Taylor
    3 months ago

    This constituent thinks that this sort of camping should be criminalized and effectively banned. Our city parks have been signed for decades with instructions that there be no overnight camping — parks are closed at night. State parks and national parks have always had stipulations about camping — not allowed, partially allowed, fee based, volume based — that is, controlled. The places we’re talking about here were not designed for camping (underpasses, sides of roads, city parks…). The solution to homelessness is not homesteading roadways and parks.

    There are portions of annexed Aurora — open fields, vacant land and such. PITCH CAMP THERE!

    And make panhandling (most of which is a scam) completely and totally illegal within city limits. Create a single fixed location where people wanting to beg for food and money to go and people who wish to hand out stuff to meet them there. It will become immediately obvious who are shuttled/shifted crews bilking kind motorists while they rake in hundreds and make 50k a year.

    Both are eyesores that have no welcome place in out city.