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An illegal drifters camp near Interstate 225 and East Mississippi Avenue in Aurora last winter. (Photo by Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman)

Aurora City Hall has been putting a lot of effort into its pending plans to tackle homelessness, which bedevils Colorado’s third-largest city as much as it does Denver right next door. The key consideration, as the plan unveiled this week takes shape, will be to distinguish people who are truly in need from habitually “homeless” drifters — by and large, addicts and other chronic substance abusers — who throng the city’s streets and camp in its public spaces.

The truly homeless — individuals and families displaced by evictions, job loss, domestic violence and other calamities — likely will make productive use of the wide-ranging services Aurora aims to put at their disposal at a planned campus offering one-stop shopping. They warrant, and will benefit by, the kind of intervention the city’s leadership has in mind..

But the city’s elected leadership ought to have no illusions about the challenges in aiding the alcohol- and drug-abusing drifters who roam their streets, panhandle their intersections, camp and spread their squalor in their parks and greenways, contribute to petty crime, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. They too often can be counted on to reject any substantive assistance — especially shelter or rehab — that could turn their lives around.

Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, one of the prime movers behind the new initiative, confirmed as much a couple of years ago when he spent a week undercover living on the streets and in shelters with the homeless. For many of the chronic street dwellers, it’s a lifestyle choice.

To lavish services upon them when they refuse basics like getting clean and sober and holding a job — is to squander resources that could be put to better use among the broader, truly needy homeless population. And to try to find give them major resources like transitional housing without first requiring them to clean up their act — as the Aurora City Council’s misguided minority seems to advocate — is inviting failure.

Bottom line: Whether Aurora’s initiative succeeds depends on whether it expects accountability of all those who avail themselves of it.

As reported by The Gazette, the Aurora council’s majority, including Coffman, approved a proposal on Monday that calls for the new campus, incentivizes people’s participation in supportive services and incorporates conditions people must meet to receive transitional housing. The plan has three tiers: emergency shelter for anyone who needs it; supportive services people will be incentivized to access, and conditional transitional housing.

The city will seek private, county, state and federal funds to fund the construction of the $50 million-plus, nonprofit-operated homeless-services campus on city-owned land. The facility will serve as a navigation center that routes users to services that address their needs. It will include workforce development and provide case management. When the city will break ground isn’t yet clear.

To their credit, council members have invested much time and effort studying the issue. They visited Houston, San Antonio and Colorado Springs to tour differing models for addressing homelessness. They did their homework, in other words, though they didn’t all come back from their grand tour with the same impression.

Some members support a “housing-first” model such as Houston’s; it sets no expectation for a change in self-destructive behavior. Other council members favor treatment-first models with conditions and incentives — recognizing the plain reality that a meth addict needs to kick the habit before service providers throw him the keys to his own apartment.

The plan approved Monday leans toward the latter approach. That’s wise. The idea should be to uplift the homeless — not to enable the slackers among them.