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Colorado city of Aurora proposes "tough love" approach to homelessness

City of Aurora proposes "tough love" approach to homelessness
City of Aurora proposes "tough love" approach to homelessness 02:24

Two proposals have been introduced to reduce homelessness in Aurora. The city says the goal is to make it untenable for people to stay on the streets while offering resources through a new court. Mayor Mike Coffman calls it a "tough love" approach.

According to the 2023 Point-in-Time Survey, there are 572 people experiencing homelessness in Aurora. Currently, there are 130 to 150 shelter beds available on any given night.

The "tough love" proposal starts with a change along Interstate 225, where CBS News Colorado recently spoke to a business owner victimized by people in a nearby encampment.

A proposal sponsored by Councilman Steve Sundberg would put the entire I-225 corridor under a new trespass ordinance, where violators would be ticketed and given a date to appear in court.  

Under current law, it's illegal to camp along the I-225 corridor. Violators are given a 72-hour notice to move, but even if they move their tents to another unauthorized location along the corridor, there are no penalties.

However, Sundberg says the corridor suffers.

"There are safety concerns as well," explained Sundberg. "Where there's excessive trespassing, there's biohazard creation, there's wildfire danger. We want to mitigate that."

Sundberg says the proposal is not about penalizing homelessness, but rather getting people in need in touch with a supportive system.

"The ultimate goal is for people to accept services, to experience recovery, get back to work, and contribute to society again. We want to surround them with a team of people that want to encourage them in their lives and get well," said Sundberg.

A companion proposal, sponsored by Councilman Curtis Gardner, will create a specialized court to handle low-level offenses, such as violating the trespass ordinance, illegal drug possession, or retail theft, by individuals experiencing homelessness.  

Coffman says the Housing, Employment, Addiction, Recovery and Teamwork or "H.E.A.R.T." Court would place offenders on probation with court-ordered requirements such as their participation in an addiction recovery program, mental health treatment, or job training. Participants will also have access to shelter, with services, in one of Aurora's two pallet home communities.  

With successful completion of the court-ordered requirements, all changes are dropped at the end of the probation period.

If they miss their court date, they could be arrested.

"We're not out to just be punitive. We want people to get help," said Sundberg. "We want to bring people into a supportive environment and that's going to require enforcing the law."

The Sundberg proposal is drafted so that it can be expanded to cover other problem areas of the city with the new trespass ordinance, without requiring the ordinance to go back to city council for a vote.

The two proposals passed out of the Public Safety and Courts Policy Committee last week. They will be heard in a study session on April 22 and voted on at the first council meeting in May.

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