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.