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Aurora woman says her effort to feed people in need has racked up thousands in fines

Swing By Street Supply.jpg
Posted at 5:00 PM, Jan 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-17 18:36:40-05

AURORA, Colo. — An Aurora woman who started a nonprofit food bank and donation center out of her garage for people in need said she now faces thousands of dollars in fines after receiving multiple citations from the city of Aurora.

“Swing By Street Supply is a mutual aid nonprofit that we started in the middle of a pandemic, when we realized that our neighborhood didn't have the resources that were available in other neighborhoods, and that we were one of the lowest income zip codes in the Denver metro area. So we decided to do something about it,” said Manige Blackburn-Giles, Swing By Street Supply executive director.

Blackburn-Giles said the nonprofit provides non-perishable food items, clothing, diapers, and other items.

“When we had the 24-hour pantry, we were serving anybody that came by in the middle of the night. So we did hear from people who are unhoused, that they kind of knew that our pantry was here, and that they could come and get food and things like that,” Blackburn-Giles said. “We actually called the city — we were applying for a city beautification grant with the city of Aurora. And we had a plan with our ward representative. And we were advised to call zoning and enforcement to make sure that our plan was in alignment with zoning. And that's actually what brought what we were doing to the city's knowledge."

But Blackburn-Giles said the call did not go as planned.

“They (code enforcement officers) came, we showed them our garage… And we showed them, you know, where we store our food and diapers and how things operate and showed them what our plan was to build some infrastructure. And they didn't say anything," she said. "They said we needed a business license. They said they would get back to us. And then they never did. We didn't end up being able to apply for that grant because of the lack of communication from the city. And what ultimately happened is that I received a summons for failure to appear because they had cited lots of things on the property, Swing By related or not."

Blackburn-Giles said she never received the citations and the failure to appear charge was eventually dropped. However, she was eventually served with legal paperwork and learned she was cited multiple times for littering, a broken fence, for having an unregistered car in her driveway, among other things.

"We had the 24-hour pantry that we bolted to our friends that we kept stocked and clean. And they took it from us without having any communication. And in the process they broke our fence and then on that list of violations was the fence that they broke when they took the 24-hour pantry," Blackburn-Giles said. "The car was for my 15-year-old who's going to be 16 and it wasn't operational. They cited us for weeds that were actually trees. They cited us for garbage being on the wrong side of the house. They said that it has to be on the south side."

City of Aurora Communications Deputy Director Ryan Luby released the following statement regarding the case:

The city of Aurora is committed to providing safe living conditions for all its residents. Code Enforcement aims to enhance the community and uphold property values by enforcing minimum maintenance requirements for residential and business properties. Certified Code Enforcement Officers respond to complaints and patrol their assigned areas proactively to identify code violations. When a violation is found, property owners and/or occupants are given a specified time to correct the violation. Failure to comply with a Notice of Violation may result in property abatement and/or receiving a summons to appear in court.

For the case in question, an Aurora code enforcement officer on patrol observed potential violations at this address. The officer identified garbage cans and boxes of rotting food along with other lingering trash in the driveway and in the neighboring alleyway. In April 2022, Code Enforcement staff walked the property with the homeowner to detail multiple violations of city code on the entire property. The property owner shared that they were operating a community food bank, which staff noted was illegal without a proper license. Staff again spotted trash in improper places, and an illegal sign attached to a fence. The property owner was given a timeframe to remedy the violations without penalty. They failed to take proper action, resulting in the issuance of several Notices of Violation including an abatement to remove the trash from the property. Upon future inaction, they were issued a summons to appear in court. In November 2023, they were found guilty in a jury trial of the following:
- Trash and debris (114-29)(E)
- Failure to keep property free of litter (114-35)(a)
- Unlawful vehicle (114-28) (car was not registered) 
- Unlawful outdoor storage (146-4.11.2)(subsection b, subsection 2)

Sentencing is Friday, Jan. 12. The fine for each (violation/charge) may be up to $2,650.00.

Code Enforcement is dedicated to finding solutions to help people avoid financial penalties. In this case, code officers identified potential violations with the homeowner, exhaustively provided direction on how to remedy them, and guided them on how to properly operate a local food bank from their home. Unfortunately, the homeowner neglected this assistance and chose to remain in violation of city code. It was not the desired result, but we hope other Aurora residents recognize the importance of keeping their property in good standing for the betterment of their community.

Blackburn-Giles' attorney Erika Unger also issued the following statement:

The City of Aurora effectively harassed our client with a cascade of zoning violations,” said Erika Unger, co-director of Bread and Roses Legal Center. “They would cite her for too much trash, so she would get trash cans. Then she was cited for too many trash cans.”

At one point, Aurora Police forcefully removed a free pantry–intended to give individuals 24 access to emergency food–from the fence on the property. Blackburn-Giles was afterwards cited for the broken fence.

“This is clearly a continuation of Aurora’s war on the poor,” Unger said. “The entire neighborhood depends on Swing By for survival, and yet the City has decided to make them the enemy.”

Bread and Roses represented Blackburn-Giles through two trials over the matter.

“It is particularly ironic that the City has decided to throw the book at Swing By Street Supply, as this organization has provided the Aurora Library and the recreation center with supplies when the City of Aurora would not,” said Unger.

Blackburn-Giles said she feels city code enforcement officers and the city attorney have misrepresented her case.

“The city says they're concerned during the trial, the city attorney was very, very clear that, you know, people who were unhoused deserved better than what we were providing. And he showed a picture of spoiled produce. That spoiled produce was out for (our) trash. So he totally was mischaracterizing what was happening,” Blackburn-Giles said.

Blackburn-Giles said she was convicted on four charges and each charge carries up to a $3,000 fine, for a total of about $12,000.

During a sentencing hearing on Jan. 12, Blackburn-Giles said she requested jail time in lieu of fines.

“I would rather serve jail time… If I had $12,000, I would use it to support a Venezuelan family,” Blackburn-Giles said.

Blackburn-Giles said the judge in her case imposed a $3,000 fine with $2,500 deferred, requiring her to pay only $500 if she does not receive any more citations.

But Blackburn-Giles said code enforcement officers continue to issue citations, with two new charges added for trash and unlawful bikes in her yard.

She said she will not stop providing help for those in need.

Aurora woman says her effort to feed people in need has racked up thousands in fines

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