Aurora, CO

Aurora mayor praises homelessness photo exhibit

David Heitz

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Rob is one of many people experiencing homelessness featured in a photography exhibit at Aurora History Museum.Amy Forestieri/Aurora History Museum

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Aurora, Colo.) Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman is the driving force behind the city's soon-to-be enacted urban camping ban. But despite accusations that he's not compassionate, Coffman recommends everyone view a museum exhibit telling the stories of Aurora's unhoused residents.

The exhibit at the Aurora History Museum features the photography of Amy Forestieri, according to a Sunday Facebook post by Coffman.

"Amy Forestieri is a brilliant photojournalist whose work is featured at the Aurora History Museum from now until May 29," the post reads. "Amy's work is extraordinary, and it is a must see for anyone who cares about this important issue."

Coffman visited the exhibit this week and met Forestieri. He explained in the Facebook post that she spent three months taking pictures along Colfax from Yosemite to Peoria. Coffman said Forestieri gained a "unique understanding of the challenging lives that the chronically homeless on Colfax endure and how they survive on the streets."

Coffman said, "Her photos, along with their descriptions, penetrate the emotional lawyers of her subjects to tell their stories unfiltered, and without judgement."

A kinder, gentler Coffman

Coffman went undercover last year as a homeless man on Aurora's streets. From his experience, he concluded that most people living on the streets battle drug and alcohol addiction and choose that life.

But in recent weeks, a kinder, gentler Coffman has emerged. He has added a companion bill to his proposed camping ban to create a place where every displaced person could go. The shelter would supply restrooms, handwashing, showers, and meals in addition to beds. According to the museum website, "Housing insecurity is a key issue facing Aurora, and to build a wider understanding of people who are often overlooked, misunderstood or unheard, staff at the Aurora History Museum engaged in an oral history project on the streets of the city."

Homeless share painful details

People experiencing homelessness shared the painful details of their lives for the exhibit. "I really hope this exhibit brings a humane insight into the lives of some of our most vulnerable Aurorans," Museum Director T. Scott Williams said. "I hope through their interviews; our guests can see people for people and bring more awareness to a very complicated issue in our city.

"Further, my desire is to connect people with the resources available, as there are a lot of city programs and organizations trying to assist our housing insecure."

Aurora spent $4.5 million earlier this month on services for people experiencing homelessness. The council is expected to approve a camping ban at its Feb. 28 meeting.

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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 local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

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