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As Aurora passes camping ban, some say enforcement money would be better spent on affordable housing

Mayor Mike Coffman, who proposed the ordinance that would go into effect as soon as April 28, called the ban a good first step.

Teams of city workers and employees from local nonprofits in the Denver metro area visited highway underpasses, alleys, public parks, transit terminals, parking lots, and other locations to count houseless individuals. The “point-in-time” count can help inform human service organizations and government programs of origins of local homelessness and how to better serve affected individuals. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
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The Aurora City Council passed Mayor Mike Coffman’s urban camping ban, which could take effect as soon as April 28.

The unauthorized-camping ordinance passed in a 6-5 vote.

The ban will prohibit camping on public property in Aurora. Supporters of the measure have said it is inhumane to allow people who are homeless to live on the streets while opponents have said the ban would not adequately address homelessness

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Before the ordinance passed Monday night, Councilman Juan Marcano said that the city council would grow even more frustrated after it spends more resources on simply moving people around the city. “This will not get people off the streets,” he said. “This will not do what it is built to do.” 

Permanent supportive housing is a better option, he said, because it would provide housing, counseling, job services and other necessities to people in need of help.

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Marcano and councilmembers Ruben Medina, Crystal Murillo, Alison Coombs and Angela Lawson voted against the measure. Coffman and councilmembers Steve Sundberg, Danielle Jurinsky, Francoise Bergan, Curtis Gardner and Dustin Zvonek voted in favor of it.

During the meeting, Coffman called the ordinance a “good first step.” He said the ordinance mandates that there are available shelter options for people who request it after they are removed from a camp. He said the camping ban does not criminalize homelessness and that there are no fines or penalties when people are removed from an encampment. But if a person refuses an order from police to vacate, they could be arrested and subjected to other penalties, he said. 

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“I think this is an important first step in not only cleaning up our city but helping those who are in these encampments, who would then be required to go to a secure location, where services will be provided,” Coffman said.

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Councilmember Coombs noted that a city housing survey in 2017 found then that Aurora was short 12,000 units of affordable housing and that number has likely increased. Coombs said it would be more fiscally responsible to spend money on addressing the root causes of homelessness than on enforcing a camping ban.

Councilman Sundberg said Aurora residents may be unaware about work underway in the city to help support people in need, including people who are homeless. The city has dozens of organizations, such as the Aurora Housing Authority, Bridge House and Village Exchange Center, for example, providing housing, food and other services to people in need, he said. The Aurora Mental Health Acute Care campus, centrally located near the intersection of Mississippi Avenue and Interstate 225 will offer walk-in mental health support and substance abuse services, health and dental care and 60 units of supportive housing. The Ridgeview Recovery campus will help with sobriety services and vocational training, and the Weatherstone Apartment Complex will offer 213 Section 8 apartments that are currently under renovation, he said.

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City leaders are “exploring different options” for additional shelter beds to house people who are removed from an encampment on public property, said Michael Brannen, a city spokesman.

Though the ordinance authorizes the removal, or “abatement,” of camps on public property, it also allows the city to intervene if requested in cases where people are camped on private property without authorization.

Coffman introduced the first version of his urban camping ban last summer, but it failed in August on a 5-5 vote. His newer proposal passed on first reading on Feb. 28 in a 6-5 vote after Coffman broke the now right-leaning council’s tie. On March 14, the ordinance passed on second reading in a 6-5 vote. The ordinance passed Monday night after a final reading.


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