By Conor McCue

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – Aurora’s city council will soon debate banning residents who are experiencing homelessness from camping in the city, a tactic some believe improves safety, while critics say it criminalizes homelessness. On Friday, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman announced he would bring his proposed urban camping ban back before the city council.

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Coffman said it will be presented to members at a study session on Feb. 7, and then voted on Feb. 14.

“The fact is, we just cannot have these encampments springing up everywhere that are a threat to the public and a threat to public safety,” Coffman told CBS4.

For months, Coffman has maintained a ban on urban camping is a way to improve public safety while preventing economic cost to the city. He’s also called the proposed tactic “humane,” and a way to push people experiencing homelessness toward services.

“I believe the majority of people that are in the encampments suffer from drug and alcohol issues, some mental health but a lot of drug and alcohol issues,” Coffman said. “We want to be able to provide long-term treatment for them, for those who want to change their behavior and want to become sober and get a job.”

Last summer, the city council rejected a similar ban, but several new, more conservative members have since been elected. According to a city spokesperson, a rule in the city charter required Coffman to wait six months before reintroducing the proposal.

“I was one vote short last time, and I believe I have the votes this time,” he said.

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This version of the ban would require the city to give 7 days’ notice and an alternate location before any sweeps. According to Coffman, the alternate location does not have to be a shelter.

“It can be a place for them to go to camp, a place for safe camping,” Coffman said. “It doesn’t have to be a building, per se, for them to go to to meet the requirements under case law.”

Coffman said there would also be no fines or penalties attached to this camping ban, although campers could be arrested for failure to move or trespassing if they don’t leave after the required notice.

“It certainly is not a cure-all for homelessness,” Coffman said. “It’ s a very complicated issue and we’ll have to deal with that through other programs, but it makes an important statement, and that statement is that these encampments can’t just pop up anywhere, these encampments are a threat to public safety and a threat to public health.”

“They know this is ineffective, they’re just doing this for pure politics,” said Juan Marcano, a council member who represents Aurora’s fourth ward.
Marcano voted against the proposal last summer and is one of a few members opposed to the current version. He maintains camping bans don’t work and says Denver’s version of one is proof.

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“A lot of money wasted, pushing people around the city… I refer to it as a game of whack-a-mole with human cost,” Marcano said. “They’ve also invited lawsuits and other negative attention by doing this.”

Marcano believes the city should instead use its resources toward providing housing, a tactic many advocates for people experiencing homelessness support.

“There is a cost to it, obviously, but over time it is cheaper than what we’re currently doing, which is, again, pushing folks around with no actual solution,” Marcano said.

“I don’t think that that’s really realistic,” said Coffman when asked about a housing-first approach toward homelessness. “I think we want to provide emergency services for everybody, but we want to focus our resources on a work first model.”

Conor McCue