Aurora, CO

Aurora considers ‘safe outdoor space’ for homeless camp

David Heitz
Edward Paterson/Unplash

The Aurora City Council will consider at its study session Monday whether to give its blessing to a “safe outdoor space” pilot program at the Salvation Army.

Homelessness has been a vitriolic topic in Aurora. The mayor takes a talk-tough approach, saying most homeless people are addicts and don’t want help.

The council is trying to consider options for people experiencing homelessness while they mayor vows to enact a camping ban. Many people guffawed when Mayor Coffman posed as a homeless man and infiltrated camps. He claimed that’s how he learned most homeless people are drug addicts and uninterested in a better life.

But last week he said he never infiltrated Aurora campsites at all. They were in Denver, he explained.

Meantime, as the public watches the Aurora mayor make sweeping judgement calls about people experiencing homelessness, the problem festers. Aurora’s Homelessness Program Manager, Lana Dalton, has asked the City Council to support a safe outdoor space with federal CARES money.

Federal money would pay for camping site in Aurora

“This project is a priority due to the sheer lack of sheltering options and wrap around services needed to assist those experiencing homelessness in our community,” Dalton explains in a staff report. “By incorporating a safe outdoor space pilot into the community of Aurora, we are providing organized, alternative sheltering solutions that connect individuals to safe places to be, where they have access to portlets, handwashing stations, garbage disposal, food, the appropriate level of services (housing, medical, case management, clinical services, etc.) needed to move out of homelessness.

“This would increase safety for the community as well as those experiencing homelessness, lessen the economic impact of having to conduct regular camp abatements as well as lessen the environmental impact that some of the camps in the community pose.”

Dalton said she would like to see the site used as an experiment. Data from the outcomes of people living in the safe outdoor space would be used to inform future council decisions about homelessness.

Safe outdoor site would be located at Salvation Army

“At the Salvation Army site, we would like to use this site as a pilot project through a temporary use permit to gather data on how rapidly we can take people that are living in a safe camping site, get them connected to the most appropriate services for them, and assist them with gaining permanent housing solutions through the use of medical staff, case managers, therapists and volunteers,” Dalton explains in the staff report. “At the end of this 90-day pilot, we would like to bring this concept back to council and inform them of the results that have been produced.”

In the past, Aurora’s response to homelessness has been driven mostly by the COVID-19 epidemic. According to a staff report, the city erected a safe outdoor space to quarantine asymptomatic people experiencing homelessness who tested positive for the virus.

The safe outdoor space, which also offered safe parking for people living in their cars, closed in April when its lease was up.

Dalton explained in the staff report that the city recently conducted outreach for residents concerned about safe outdoor spaces. “The city of Aurora held a safe outdoor space symposium for anyone who was interested in learning about safe outdoor spaces, which included safe parking, safe camping, tiny homes and pallet homes. This symposium was designed to educate all on what it may look like to move an initiative like this forward in the city of Aurora.

“This ties into the city’s current housing strategy as a possible solution for those with little to no income and are in need of immediate shelter, access to services, and assistance finding permanent housing solutions.”

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO

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