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Aurora leaders criticize mayor's week on the streets, homeless 'choice' comment

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Posted at 4:45 PM, Jan 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-07 18:53:21-05

AURORA, Colo. — Aurora leaders and advocates for people experiencing homelessness strongly criticized Mayor Mike Coffman, who recently spent a week on the streets and told a local news station that some people experiencing homelessness are making a "lifestyle choice."

Aurora Councilmember Crystal Murillo called Coffman's experience a "publicity stunt" and said it could lead to "harmful, terrible" policies.

Councilmember Alison Coombs said Coffman "is not listening to the experts on this issue" and undermining efforts to help those experiencing homelessness.

Shelley McKitrrick, Aurora's former homelessness program director, called Coffman's week on the streets — and his subsequent interview with CBS4 — a "shallow, performative exercise."

"That's what happens when you ignore advocates," McKittrick said of the mayor.

The CBS4 story aired Tuesday night and was met with criticism of Coffman, particularly his comments about some homeless people making a "lifestyle choice" by living on the streets and not staying in shelters. Coffman also told CBS4 that most people experiencing homelessness can work, but don't, and that shelters, in some ways, can lead to more dependency.

Coffman on Wednesday released a statement in response to the criticism, saying his "lifestyle choice" comment "was to the different between those staying in the shelters and those staying in the encampments."

"My intent was not to say that homelessness itself, is a choice," Coffman wrote in the statement.

McKittrick, who recently left the city's homelessness program, said Coffman should have talked more in depth with the people he met on the streets and that he likely would have learned more about why they are without a home.

"Trauma causes homelessnes," McKittrick said, and many people experiencing homelessness have experienced forms of trauma in their lives.

Denver Councilmember Candi CdeBaca, who has been a sharp critic of Mayor Michael Hancock's homelessness policies, also joined the Aurora leaders Thursday, saying Coffman's "stunt was disgusting and disappointing."

CdeBaca called for housing needs to be met to solve the homelessness issue in Denver and Aurora.

"The only solution to homelessness is housing," CdeBaca said.