A proposal to ban urban camping as a means to deal with increasing homelessness in Aurora was narrowly shot down by City Council Monday night, dealing a blow to Mayor Mike Coffman, who pushed the measure.
The vote count was a 5-5 tie, which under Aurora’s rules means the measure fails. At the end of the meeting, the mayor said he would try to advance the measure again in six months. There are several seats up for election in November.
Coffman’s proposal would have banned camping on all public property, as well as private property where the owner hasn’t given permission to camp. The city would have needed to give the person experiencing homelessness 72 hours notice to gather their possessions and move before issuing a ticket.
The city would also have to ensure there is a place to which they can go before telling them to move on.
“No encampment can be abated unless our city provides them with a designated area where they can move to,” Coffman said Monday, before the vote.
But at the council meeting Monday night, several council members said camping bans don’t work. Councilman Juan Marcano said all Aurora needs to do is look across the city line to Denver, where homelessness has become increasingly visible despite the city having a ban in place.
“See how well (a ban) has worked for them,” he said, comparing encampment sweeps to an endless game of whack-a-mole where homeless people told to move on simply set up tents in another part of the city.
Councilwoman Angela Lawson asked the mayor where those experiencing homelessness would go once their encampment is disassembled.
“Where are people going to go?” she said. “If this passes, where are you going to put people?”
Aurora homelessness programs manager Lana Dalton told The Denver Post that Aurora has 150 shelter beds, which are generally at capacity, and there are an estimated 467 people currently without shelter in Colorado’s third-largest city.
The city received 841 calls or contacts from residents about the issue in the first half of the year, with about half of those complaints focused on people living out of RVs, Dalton said. There have also been 29 “abatements,” or cleanups of encampments in that time. More encampments have popped up as the metro area becomes less affordable.
“It’s blowing up,” Dalton said of homelessness. “I feel like it’s been in the background for a while and COVID has shone a light on it.”
Coffman said something has to be done about the issue because “homeowners and business owners are really fed up with all the trash that has been piling up around the encampments and want it to stop.”
That includes Jeff Eaton, owner of Senor Ric’s Mexican restaurant on East Mississippi Avenue. His eatery is near a homeless encampment that sits in the shadow of Interstate 225.
“I just have a lot of activity in and around the building and the building gets vandalized and my customers get panhandled,” said Eaton, who supported Coffman’s measure. “Customers will choose not to come here because they get accosted in the parking lot.”
He said a person loitering in his parking lot who he asked to leave threw a landscaping log through the restaurant’s window.
“It’s hard to get the police to respond because they are understaffed,” Eaton said.
Monday night’s meeting featured a sharp exchange between Coffman and Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson, who told the mayor that she opposed the ban because it was not the role of her understaffed force to spend time breaking up camps in the city, especially with officers now exposed to potential liability under a statewide police reform law passed last year.
Homeless advocates have long condemned camping bans as harsh and ineffective, even as cities like Denver, Boulder, Centennial and Parker have put such ordinances in place over the last decade.
Aurora Councilwoman Crystal Murillo told The Post before the meeting that the mayor’s proposed camping ban would be counterproductive to the city’s larger efforts to address the problem.
“I just think at the end of the day it’s an inhumane way to treat people and it’s not addressing the root causes,” she said. “It’s not addressing the whole spectrum of issues surrounding homelessness.”
Murillo said the city has been working for three years to come up with a coordinated strategy to combat homelessness. Last month, the city opened a 30-tent sanctioned camping site — along the lines of what Denver has done over the last year. Dalton said it took only 19 days for the tents to be filled.
She said the city is looking at establishing safe parking sites, where people living out of their vehicles have a secure place to go at night.
“The need is great and our resources low,” she said.
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