AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– A month after Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman went undercover to get an up-close and unfiltered study of the homeless, he’s now talking about what needs to happen to address the problem. Coffman’s story has taken on a life of its own since CBS4 first reported the jaw-dropping, eye-opening experience.
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His decision prompted blowback from homeless advocates who say he can’t understand homelessness from one week on the streets, but Coffman says most of the feedback has been positive.
“I’ve been getting emails from across the country,” Coffman said.
The story of “Homeless Mike,” Coffman’s undercover alias, has spread far and wide. Coffman said he’s thought long and hard about the people he’s met and the places he’s stayed. He also spent time thinking about what works and what doesn’t work and why the problem is getting worse and not better.
“Even in best of economic times, the homeless numbers are increasing,” Coffman said.
One thing he’s sure of is that neither the COVID-19 economy nor a lack of resources are driving factors.
“I was asked during the intake process if I needed help with anything,” he explained.
Coffman said the challenge is that some people don’t want to change.
“How do we incentivize people? I mean, are we providing too many resources to those who are not willing to change?” Coffman asked. “We know that if people are unwilling to change, then no amount of resources are going to make a difference in their life.”
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Coffman said the people living in encampments don’t want to change. He said they choose to live on the streets, not because they’re afraid of COVID-19, but because they’re addicted to drugs. Coffman said none of them wore masks or socially distanced.
He says the only way to address encampments is to shut them down. Public assistance, he says, should be contingent on drug treatment through programs with a proven track record.
“Developing work skills and getting them a job where they can afford stable housing but keeping them sober,” Coffman explained.
His critics say he has no compassion, doesn’t understand the trauma that drives someone to live on the street, and ignores the fact that many of those who are homeless suffer from mental illness.
“Being compassionate is not enabling their behavior to continue,” Coffman said.
He said while most of those he met did not appear to be mentally ill, we have an obligation to help those who are.
“For that population, what would be best is that we have shelters for them that are 24 hours,” he said.
Coffman admits the solution is complex but says homeless advocates who make excuses instead of demanding changes are part of the problem.MORE NEWS: VIDEO: Colorado Bobcat Hunts For Next Meal
“To paint this broad brush that somehow they’re all victims, and if only we could understand them a little bit better. This narrative is tied to their trying to obtain funding,” said Coffman. “I’m going give them credit that they believe what they’re saying, even though I believe it’s wrong. They’re saying always it’s a function of more money. I guess my challenge to them, after a week on the streets, is spend a day in an encampment and then tell me what you think.”