A group of Aurora city council members and advocates gathered Thursday to address Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman’s remarks on homelessness, following his seven-day stint on the streets of Aurora posing as a homeless veteran.
In a CBS4 segment that aired Wednesday night, Coffman called homelessness a “lifestyle choice” and said homelessness is a product of a “drop out mentality” and “drug culture,” rather than factors such as high rents and mental health issues.
Coffman’s main takeaway from the experience is that shelters enable drug use, and he hopes to see a public education campaign that urges people to not bring food and other necessities to those experiencing homelessness.
Advocates and city council members disagree. They say mental health and housing solutions should be at the center of the conversation and urged Coffman to listen to expert advice and come to the table and work together to solve complex and nuanced issues of homelessness.
Denver City Council member Candi Cdebaca called Coffman’s stunt “disgusting and disappointing” and says painting homelessness as a choice is harmful to advocates’ efforts and demonstrates Coffman’s privilege and lack of understanding of the issue.
Longtime Advocate and former Homelessness Program Director for the City of Aurora Shelley McKittrick called Coffman’s foray into homelessness a “shallow, performative exercise” and urged Coffman to listen to advocates and experts in the field.
“The people that Mayor Coffman didn’t want to listen to are the people who are going out and putting their lives at risk to save the lives of people experiencing homelessness,” she said.
Director of Denver Alliance for Street Health Response (DASHR) Vinny Cervantes expressed concern over Coffman’s failure to highlight “any level” of mental health or disability issues despite posing as a homeless veteran. He added that this narrative is particularly insensitive, considering Colorado has one of the highest rates of unhoused veterans.
Aurora City Council Member Crystal Murillo pointed out that Coffman has never attended the Housing Redevelopment and Neighborhood Services Policy Committee meeting, where council members hear expert advice and discuss homelessness, and found it problematic that the mayor was unwilling to sit with experts, advocates, and city council member to discuss solutions.
Adams County Commissioner and Chair of Adams County Housing authority Ava Henry has experienced homelessness first hand and had this message for Coffman: “Mayor Coffman, I was not an alcoholic or a drug addict. I was a struggling young mother who did not have the same opportunities in life as you did.”
Moving forward, Henry hopes no one, including Coffman, will reduce systemic issues of poverty and homelessness to a singular cause, and that the community can come together to work toward ending the cycle of homelessness.