aurora homeless camp

An unauthorized camp near Interstate 225 and East Mississippi Avenue in Aurora, Colo. on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022. 

With the newly right-leaning Aurora City Council on his side, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman is planning to reintroduce his failed camping ban to the council next month.

The ban would prohibit all urban camping on private and public property within Aurora. The ban would also require a seven-day notice before an unauthorized camp is shut down and for the city to have shelter available for every person staying in the camp. If shelter space is not available, the city would not touch the camp, according to the ban.

In August 2021, Coffman proposed the same ban, which failed in repeated 5-5 tie votes. Despite the conflicted council, Coffman has stood behind his proposal, calling it a better option than what the city is doing now.

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“I lost my proposal to ban urban camping in Aurora by just one vote,” Coffman said. “Under the current policy, encampments are only abated at the discretion of city staff and there is no requirement to provide an alternate location for those in the encampment to go to.”

Since the camping ban was last proposed, the City Council flipped from an even party split to a Republican majority, with six of the 10 members leaning right.

The camping ban is likely to pass this time around if the right-leaning members vote in favor of it. While Councilwoman Angela Lawson (a former Republican now unaffiliated) may vote against the ban as she did last year, Coffman would be able to issue a tie-breaking vote to push the ban forward. In 2021, Coffman voted to create the 5-5 tie, with one council member absent.

Newly elected Councilman Steve Sundberg, a Republican, said he would support Coffman’s camping ban, and hopes the city goes even further.

“In addition to a camping ban, I'd like to see a public education campaign to discourage people from giving to panhandlers and give to supportive organizations instead,” Sundberg said. “I look forward to the innovative things Aurora Mental Health, city, state and others are planning with an Acute Care Campus, Recovery and Vocational Campus, affordable housing units, etc.”

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In contrast, Councilwoman Alison Coombs, a Democrat, said she would vote against the camping ban, saying it will not help prevent unsheltered homelessness.

Denver has had a similar urban camping ban in place since 2012. Last year, an estimated 1,185 people were living on the streets of the city, according to the Denver Department of Housing Stability. Another 3,752 people were living in Denver's homeless shelters, according to an annual count.

“The mayor's proposal continues a policy that is a proven failure in Denver and other cities,” Coombs said. “It is based on stereotypes rather than data, and ignores the common-sense conclusion that the solution to homelessness is housing. One is left to wonder if the cruelty is the point of this proposal, which will soon become policy in our city.”

Councilman Juan Marcano, also a Democrat, expressed similar sentiment via Twitter, writing, “We get what we vote for. Sadism and cruelty are on the menu. We deserve better.”

Others argue that the city does not have adequate staffing or resources to enforce the camping ban. Last year, Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson openly spoke against the ban, saying it would be “an absolute burden” on the police department.

In the most recent count from 2020, there were 61 unsheltered homeless people living in Aurora in places like unauthorized camps. That year, there were 427 total homeless people in Aurora. In 2021, a count that did not include unsheltered populations said there were 594 homeless people living in shelters in Aurora.

The camping ban will be introduced for discussion at the City Council’s study session on Feb. 7. If moved out of the study session, the ban will face a vote on Feb. 14.