Aurora to send illegal homeless campers to problem-solving court



(The Center Square)—The city of Aurora is looking to amend an ordinance for unauthorized camping that would require homeless people to attend “problem-solving court.”

The proposal was discussed in a recent Public Safety, Courts & Civil Service Policy Committee meeting on May 20. “Closed to camping” means that the city designates the location on public property as an area that is closed to camping, according to the agenda.

The city is looking to amend certain sections to make it unlawful for anyone to camp or keep their property in any area designated as “closed to camping,” with the exception that if homeless individuals are offered shelter options and decline and refuse to move their things, they will be given a citation and could be arrested, according to the agenda document.

“The 72-hour notice requirement and the shelter option requirement of this article do not apply to an unauthorized camp in an area Closed to Camping,” the city states in the ordinance, adding that the signs posted in the closed-to-camping areas are enough notice.

This is due to the increase the city is seeing in homelessness, according to the document.

“I, along with Council Member Steve Sundberg and Aurora’s Chief Municipal Judge Shawn Day, visited problem-solving courts in Arvada and Lakewood who specifically handle low-level offices committed by individuals experiencing homelessness.” Mayor Mike Coffman said in an email to The Center Square.

The mayor stated that judges of problem-solving courts meet monthly with assigned offenders and monitor their individual progress. Under the city’s proposal, homeless offenders are given a year of probation, and after meeting the requirements enforced by the courts, they could have their charges dropped.

The city of Aurora uses the Housing Employment Assistance Recovery Team (HEART) program for homeless individuals charged with trespassing, refusal to leave, or non-domestic violence low-level non-violent municipal ordinance offenses.

The HEART Program works with the problem-solving courts. It is a non-traditional way of using treatment plans and multidisciplinary teams from judicial and treatment communities. As of May 2023, Colorado has 66 operating problem-solving courts.

Programs of Problem-solving courts include adult drug courts, juvenile drug courts, DUI courts, adult and juvenile mental health courts, family and dependency/ neglect courts, and veterans’ treatment courts, according to Colorado’s website.

The mayor stated, “Problem-solving courts address the underlying problems that contribute to criminal behavior. In the case of our proposed court to handle low level offences committed by homeless individuals, as part of their agreed upon probation, they would be mandated to participate in programs, like addiction recovery and mental health counseling, given that the two are often the underlined problems experienced by our unsheltered homeless. The goal is to help them and not to punish them.”

Mayor Coffman also said that the new court is a companion proposal to another and that if passed, it will be more aggressive in enforcing the camping ban.

According to the 2023 Point in Time Count Survey, there are 572 individuals experiencing homelessness in Aurora, a 21% jump from the pre-covid number of 459.

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