The Aurora City Council narrowly voted down Mayor Mike Coffman’s proposed homeless camping ban Monday night, with the ordinance failing with a 5-5 tie.
Council members Alison Coombs, Allison Hiltz, Angela Lawson, Juan Marcano and Crystal Murillo voted no, and Francoise Bergan, Marsha Berzins, Curtis Gardner, Dave Gruber and Coffman voted yes. The mayor can only vote on ordinances to make or break tie votes.
If passed, the ordinance would have prohibited unauthorized camping on private and public property in the city, similar to Denver's urban camping ban passed in 2012. With Monday's tie vote, the council will no longer consider the ban unless Coffman reintroduces it at another meeting.
Much of the council’s debate Monday centered on the effectiveness of camping bans, with many pointing to Denver as an example of bans not working.
“This isn’t going to change anything. If we pass this today, you’re still going to see homeless camps,” Marcano said. “We need to actually invest in long-term solutions which looks like permanent supportive housing and work-first housing. … If you don’t want to take my word for it, drive over to Denver.”
In the most recent count from 2020, there were 427 homeless people living in Aurora. Of those, 61 were unsheltered and living in spaces like unauthorized encampments. For reference, in Denver, there were 4,171 people homelessness in 2020, according to the count.
Other arguments against the ban included that the city does not have the staffing capabilities to enforce the ban, it would be expensive to enforce and the funding would be better spent on housing services for the homeless.
Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson also spoke during the meeting, saying she was “philosophically” opposed to using police to enforce camping bans, and saying the department does not have the resources to break up more camps.
Currently, the city only removes unauthorized homeless camps if they are determined to be a threat to public health or safety, under code enforcement jurisdiction. When that happens, residents of the camps are given seven days to leave and are provided with sheltering resources, according to the city.
In the last 12 months, over 900 public complaints have been filed regarding unauthorized encampments and 29 camps have been removed, according to the city.
Supporters of the ban argued that it would serve as just another tool for the city to use to address homelessness.
“Will it solve the problem forever? Of course not,” Gardner said. “We are going to need more services. We’re going to continue to need to put resources into things like substance abuse, PTSD, economic distress.”
Lawson also argued that the ban would be essentially useless as it requires the city to have shelter available for people living in camps, which the city does not have now and would not have in 30 days when the ban would go into effect.
This ordinance proposal comes after Coffman posed as homeless in Aurora and Denver for seven days in December, receiving intense backlash after stating that those who stay in encampments are making a “lifestyle choice.”
Coffman brought up the experience during Monday’s meeting, saying he was probably the only one among council who has stayed in a homeless shelter or encampment. Murillo responded saying the comment and experiment were “ignorant” and “offensive.”