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Aurora mayor puts camping ban proposal on hold, but pushes back on recent criticism

Mike Coffman, bipartisan House panel introduce new authorization of military force measure
Posted at 1:47 PM, Jan 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-11 15:47:55-05

AURORA, Colo. — Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman on Monday said he's decided to put on hold his support for a camping ban in the city "until I better understand what its impact will be on Aurora," though the mayor also pushed back on criticism he faced for comments he made last week about people living in homeless camps.

Coffman noted that Denver has a camping ban but still "has a significant encampment problem" and Aurora "only has a modest problem."

The mayor said he wonders if a camping band "actually aggravates the problem because there are so many requirements that a camping ban must meet in order to survive a court challenge."

Coffman's decision Monday followed a week of scrutiny from Aurora leaders and community workers, who criticized the mayor for his comments about homelessness after spending a week on the streets over the Christmas holidays.

Coffman said some people experiencing homelessness and not staying in shelters are making a "lifestyle choice," according to a report from CBS4. Coffman also told CBS4 that most people experiencing homelessness can work, but don't, and that shelters, in some ways, can lead to more dependency.

Aurora Councilmember Crystal Murillo called Coffman's experience a "publicity stunt" and said it could lead to "harmful, terrible" policies.

Shelley McKitrrick, Aurora's former homelessness program director, called Coffman's week on the streets — and his subsequent interview with CBS4 — a "shallow, performative exercise."

"That's what happens when you ignore advocates," McKittrick said of the mayor.

On Monday, Coffman told Denver7 he spent a week on the streets "to have a better understanding of the issue" in Aurora. He acknowledged he "struck a raw nerve" with homelessness advocates and some city leaders for his comments to CBS4, but he said he disagrees with those criticisms.

"I do think that what I saw as a common denominator in the encampments was drug use, namely crystal methamphetamine," Coffman told Denver7. "Somebody who is homeless has to want to change. And quite frankly, I didn't see that in these encampments."

Coffman said he was surprised by "the difference between the homeless who go to shelters and access those for services and those homeless that reside in the encampments," calling them "mutually exclusive."

"I just assumed that somebody would move from one to the other, and they don't," Coffman said.