Report raps Aurora for citations against homeless people

REPORT: “Aurora stands alone in Colorado by enforcing an ordinance that makes it a crime to lie down in public during the day. Of course, this might change, as additional cities enact these types of ordinances"

AURORA | A University of Denver Sturm College of Law report last month said Aurora is one of the harsher communities for homeless people in Colorado.

According to the report, titled “Too High a Price,” Aurora is one of the few cities in the state with a statute barring people from sleeping on the street, but Aurora enforces that ordinance more than anywhere else.

A homeless woman sits next to her belongings after she and others were evicted by the city of Denver from a camp around a small park near the Denver Rescue Mission, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Denver. The city has spent months urging the campers to move into shelters and get rid of makeshift structures that officials say pose a health hazard. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
A homeless woman sits next to her belongings after she and others were evicted by the city of Denver from a camp around a small park near the Denver Rescue Mission, Tuesday, March 8, 2016, in Denver. The city has spent months urging the campers to move into shelters and get rid of makeshift structures that officials say pose a health hazard. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“Based on the cities we surveyed, Aurora stands alone in Colorado by enforcing an ordinance that makes it a crime to lie down in public during the day. Of course, this might change, as additional cities enact these types of ordinances,” the report said.

During a five-year stretch from 2010 to 2015, the report said Aurora issued 117 citations under the ordinance.

The report said Aurora and Colorado Springs were the only cities with similar enforcement of laying on the street or storing property on the street. But even in Colorado Springs, just 32 citations were issued during the same five-year stretch, and those were for storing property in a public place.

Michael LaGarde, one of the authors of the report, said other smaller cities had ordinances similar to Aurora’s ban on laying down in public, but those cities — including some along the northern front Range — don’t have nearly the homeless population that urban centers like Aurora do, so their ordinances are rarely used.

Aurora police spokesman Sgt. Chris Amsler said the city scrapped the laying down in public ordinance in January.

Aurora did not have information about how often officers opt not to ticket a homeless person for laying down, LaGarde said, and instead issue them a “move-on” order. Those orders allow people to go along their way and avoid a jail term.

LaGarde said that while those orders may seem a better options, researchers still see them as problematic.

“But it’s still pushing them out of the public sphere where they have a right to be,” he said.

The report came out a few weeks before officials in Denver stirred controversy by dismantling some semi-permanent homeless encampments there.

James Gillespie, community impact and government relations liaison at Comitis Crisis Center in Aurora, said the recent outcry around some issues surrounding homelessness — particular the intersection between law enforcement and the homeless — can distract from bigger issues.

“We have to look at the fuller story of what homelessness is when we create policies or look at funding,” he said.

The focus on law enforcement related issues often means a focus on single homeless men, which Gillespie said make up only a portion of the homeless population.

More than half of the state’s homeless population are families with children, Gillespie said, and that population goes largely unseen because they are often staying with a relative sporadically or living in vehicles.

As for the relationship between Aurora’s homeless and the police, Gillespie said the homeless population he works with have few complaints.

“We’ve seen very healthy relationships between law enforcement and our homeless population at Comitis,” he said.

The report also said: “Aurora’s criminalization of homelessness is particularly stark, given that 500 of 654 citations written under the sections of the Aurora municipal code prohibiting ‘Loitering in the Colfax Corridor’ and ‘Solicitation on or Near a Street or Highway’ were for either lying down or asking for money.”

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