A homeless camp in eastern Aurora. Homeless camps have become increasingly common in the city and region. Mayor Mike Coffman has indicated he will bring back a proposed ban on homeless camping in the city, despite the previous failure of the measure.
Photo by PHILIP B. POSTON/Sentinel Colorado
no You want homeless people to camp under Aurora Bridges, in parks, at highway exits, or on city squares and sidewalks.
But pushing homeless people — who often drown in addiction, insanity, or catastrophic despair — over and over again from one campground to another does not end homeless camps or get the homeless off the streets.
It only adds to their bleak lives and the homelessness crisis in Aurora and the region.
You don’t have to look far to see how homeless bans have failed time and time again. Search anywhere in the subway area that tried. Denver has a failed erroneous ban. Boulder, full of people who are homeless and live behind shops, in parks and even between expensive shopping malls, is proof of how pointless it is to “ban” people from living on the streets because they have no other place to go they can go.
Shooing homeless people from one campground to another not only complicates their lives, it eats away at already overstretched police forces, courts and prisons. Officials from all of these agencies have repeatedly made it clear that people camping in highway medians and along creek banks are a serious community crisis, not a criminal problem.
Despite all this, Mayor Mike Coffman wants to bring back his failed camping ban for the homeless. The city council thwarted the measure about six months ago.
Coffman said in a tweet last week that he would revive the measure, though it’s nothing more than a populist chimera.
Under Coffman’s plan, the measure would ban unauthorized camping by the homeless. After identification, the police would be dispatched to the camp. The police would then summon the people there, a time-consuming and complicated feat. The lack of identification of the homeless is a notorious and complicated tragedy. Instead, the police spent a lot of time documenting the campers and their plight.
After that, homeless campers have seven days to leave their campsite.
On the seventh day, the police return and either fine the campers or arrest them, something that police and local prison officials have strongly pushed back.
And where do homeless campers go when they are evicted? Another campsite.
These people are not criminals. You haven’t stolen anyone. You didn’t hurt anyone. You didn’t threaten anyone. Desperate, often mentally ill, they lack the money and support to find their way back into even worse poverty.
People who are naïve to the reality of drug and alcohol addiction reject it, equating meth and heroin addiction with bad manners or a lack of self-discipline.
Coffman’s assurances that homeless camping will not be criminalized is actually just double entender.
The proposed law clearly states that mockers face fines and jail time. Coffman is merely claiming that any homeless person faced with a jail sentence or a subpoena will simply move to another park, bike path or alley instead of being pushed into incarceration.
Aurora Police and officials from Adams and Arapahoe counties will tell you that is not true and that local jails are not equipped or designed as addict rehabilitation centers, psychiatric hospitals or social services to get the downed back on track .
However, Coffman is right when he says that the bulk of these homeless people will just move on – right down the street or across town and start the endless cycle of public homelessness and harassment all over again.
The biggest trick is debating what this measure would or would not do.
It would do nothing.
That’s because the measure can’t take effect until adequate housing is available for every homeless person at risk of a subpoena or jail time.
It’s unclear how many hundreds of visibly homeless people live in Aurora’s streets, parks, medians, and parking lots. But what is certain is that even after recent modest efforts to increase shelter and sanctioned tent resources, there are far too few to meet the need. And the need is growing.
Rather than continue this drama, Coffman and all Aurora City Council members should work toward a regional effort to significantly increase the number of safe, clean individual and group housing and resources needed to accommodate people who cannot afford housing, because they even work full time. it’s just not feasible. Shelters must accommodate people with drug addicts who are not cured in a police car or jail cell.
And for those who insist that drug addicts and alcoholics are their own problem and not Aurora’s, their constant relocation will eventually make their addiction and homelessness their problem too.
A regional solution must face the fact that unregulated public camps are dangerous for residents and the general public alike. We agree with Coffman and others, it must end.
But the answer must first make a difference, and it must approach the issue with the pragmatism and humanity it requires.
Scouring the homeless from one park or sidewalk to another and eventually to jail is far more costly in terms of tax dollars and human misery than creating shelters and programs to end homelessness and treat addiction now.