Aurora camping ban estimated to cost $2 million a year
Officials discuss policy related to storage of unhoused residents’ belongings
Jarrodi Parker sits in a van parked outside of the Aurora Day Recreation Center, April 22, 2022. Parker spoke with a Colorado Newsline reporter about his opinions on the recently passed camping ban in Aurora. (Carl Payne for Colorado Newsline)
The Aurora City Council reviewed the costs and implementation of its recently enacted urban camping ban in a study session on Monday.
Multiple Council members pointed out that the ordinance is not capable of being enforced currently because certain provisions are not being met, specifically the lack of storage policy for the belongings of residents at encampments the city clears.
But the city continues to clear encampments through the previous abatement policy, which requires a health or safety issue to trigger an abatement. This is what is loosened by the newly enacted ordinance — now for enforcement the city needs only shelter space for those in an encampment who want it, as well as the storage policy.
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In the session, the Council began to define this storage policy — an amendment to the ordinance by Council Member Crystal Murillo — as allowing only documents and IDs, and storing them at the Aurora Day Resource Center for a year with the possibility of extensions. No official decisions are made in the study session, only guidance from the Council on writing the policy.
The cost of the ban is estimated at an immediate $2.7 million with an annual ongoing cost to uphold the ban being around $2 million.
The immediate cost is mostly funds for transitioning the Aurora Day Resource Center into a 24/7 shelter with a potential 108 beds, covering general indoor construction of additional bathrooms and showers and outdoor renovations.
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The ongoing cost covers hiring more staff for both outreach and for the Resource Center, renting shipping containers for storing belongings — which will not be necessary if the Council’s decision to only store documents becomes policy — and general additional funding for clearing encampments.
This additional funding is for the contractors the city hires to actually abate encampments. Currently, it contracts a company named Keeson for $250,000 a year. This would increase to $625,000 a year, estimating six abatements per week averaging $2,000 each, according to the reports by Aurora’s Housing and Community Services.
Council Member Juan Marcano expressed concern on the cost of transitioning the Aurora Day Resource Center into more temporary shelter when the city could instead fund more long-term shelter options, or buy hotels or motels for supportive housing. He said that officials heard from experts and those on the streets already that some people will refuse to go to congregate shelters, saying, “I’m looking for efficacy above all since we’re already going to be spending $2 million a year shuffling people around the city.”
Marcano had voted against the ordinance.
Mayor Pro Tem Françoise Bergan brought up concerns about people from encampments “hanging out” at the facility all day. Bob Dorshimer, CEO of Mile High Behavioral Health, a nonprofit organization that includes Aurora Day Resource Center, Aurora Street Outreach, and Comitis Crisis Center, specified during the meeting that people at the center must be participating in activities or services like laundry, computer classes, or medical appointments.
Dorshimer continued to describe “two different populations” of people experiencing homelessness who will be coming to the center — those chronically unhoused and more hesitant to participate in services, and those more willing too.
The ADRC shelter transition proposal says it would include new orientation-type services to help explain what the shelter can offer, such as mental health services, to those who haven’t had them before.
The proposal also estimates that construction would not be finished until August 2024. Council Member Angela Lawson asked what the city will do in the interim, as they are “trying to retrofit everything” into the 72-hour abatement timeframe. She further asked whether they are “just going to place people wherever you can to meet the ordinance requirements?”
Jessica Prosser, director of Housing and Community Services, said they did not currently have a plan for the construction period.
Bergan commented that she doesn’t think they “have to rush” to find that solution, as she questions how many people will, once moved from an encampment, actually take the offered shelter, as “it’s summer time.” She said she thinks they’ll be able to accommodate some of the encampments without a problem.
Bergan also asked, referencing this “other population” of people experiencing chronic homelessness, about panhandling on the ADRC campus. Dorshimer answered that the center would have additional security there to “make sure people don’t wander off, start panhandling, or doing anything else like that.”
As the Council was finalizing ideas for storage, Prosser detailed that only 15 people went back to retrieve stored belongings in Denver in three years, but Denver stored belongings in a warehouse. She hoped storing at the Resource Center would make it easier and more likely for people to retrieve their property, but she’d received no complaints about lack of storage for abatements in Aurora, she said.
Dorshimer agreed with Bergan’s description that most belongings left behind from an abatement is “trash.” Murillo cautioned against pretending the previous method of simply putting important documents to the side during abatements worked and advised against adopting a similar policy, but only modified, “for expediency’s sake.”
“We’re dealing with people’s lives when this happens, and we can’t make assumptions as to what is valuable and what is not valuable because we are not in this situation,” Murillo said.
The discussion on the camping ban drew to a close as Mayor Mike Coffman specified that the “legal test is not people coming into the shelter,” as Dorshimer elaborated on the need for further storage than just documents to convince people to enter more long-term services, but “that we’ve stated that we’d have a storage policy.”
Murillo pointed out that the city still needs staff before it can enforce anything, saying, “we pushed forward an ordinance that had a disconnect with our current capacity and the ordinance we wanted to implement,” describing bottlenecks like training of staff.
Marcano said, “We put the cart before the horse.”
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