AURORA, Colo. – Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman is speaking out against a newly proposed Douglas County Sheriff’s Office program that sends recently released inmates who are experiencing homelessness to other counties and cities with more shelter resources.
“I think the problem is that Sheriff Tony Spurlock was left in a difficult position. According to him, in my discussions with Sheriff Spurlock, about 15% of his inmate population in the county jail are homeless. He’s just simply in a position where if he just releases them…then they're simply going to be on the street, and probably going to reoffend, and probably going to wind up in the jail again,” Coffman said.
Spurlock recently announced plans to appoint a reintegration and transportation deputy who would oversee connecting unhoused people with resources.
Coffman said Douglas County may lack emergency shelters, but sending people in need to other jurisdictions is wrong.
“Douglas County just needs… to stop the program. I'm sympathetic to Sheriff Spurlock. He wants the commissioners to make a shelter option available, and he's expressed that to me very directly in the conversations we had about this issue,” Coffman said. “Douglas County is going to need to take care of the problem.”
Spurlock could not be reached for comment, but Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon, who created the county’s Homeless Initiative, said the county jail currently houses homeless inmates from other counties.
“We are actually housing a lot of inmates from other counties. And with the current statute, there's a requirement that the other counties, when those individuals that are incarcerated leave the justice center, that they are returned back to those counties,” Laydon said. “75% of the people law enforcement is encountering are not from Douglas County, they're coming north through El Paso or south from Denver.”
Despite the county’s lack of emergency shelters, Laydon said the county does provide services for those in need, and the Homeless Initiative has partnered with 60 community organizations.
“We've also authorized the H.E.A.R.T. team, which is the Homeless Engagement Assistance Resource Team — a co-responder team made up of a peace officer and a navigator that can go out to people that are experiencing a housing crisis and provide services. They make that connection that is so essential," Laydon said.
During a recent Douglas County town hall, many residents spoke out against building shelters. But according to county leaders, law enforcement legally cannot enforce code violations or shutdown encampments if there’s no other shelter options nearby.
“I have no interest in a tent city, I have no interest in a creating a residential community for people experiencing homelessness. But if we do something around sheltering, it really would be more of an initiative center,” Laydon said.
While Douglas County commissioners consider their options, Coffman said he’s going to ask Aurora City Council to stop Douglas County from sending people experiencing homelessness to Aurora and other cities.
“I'll be putting forward a resolution,” Coffman said. “First of all, it will say that, that what Douglas County is doing is wrong. And that will come to a vote of the city council. But also what it will do is it will say that we will then request of our state legislative delegation to put forward legislation in the next session of the General Assembly that would prohibit one jurisdiction from transporting its homeless to another jurisdiction without the consent of that receiving jurisdiction.”