AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — When Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman announced he was taking a vacation the day after Christmas, few had any idea how he would spend his week off.
Coffman didn’t even tell his own family about plans to spend seven days and seven nights on the streets of metro Denver, hoping to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be homeless.
“I didn’t even tell a relative, because I thought they’d just freak out and try to talk me out of it,” he says.
Coffman says he spent three nights at various encampments and four nights in shelters.
Wednesday, he surprised some by saying it was a “lifestyle choice” to live in the encampments.
“When I said it was a choice, people got very offended,” he says. “But it is a choice to be in the encampment, and not in the shelter.”
Thursday, more than a dozen elected officials and homeless advocates held a virtual press conference, criticizing Coffman’s comments.
“I think it’s immoral and disgusting,” said Englewood Council Member John Stone. “I think he should issue a formal, public apology for it.”
Stone says he was homeless for 5 years, between the ages of 16 and 21, and says nobody would ever choose to remain in that position.
“Claiming that people want to be homeless is absurd,” he says.
Coffman believes substance abuse issues play a major role in people choosing not to be in shelters.
Data shows about 30% of metro Denver’s homeless population reported having substance abuse in 2020.
“I see this as an opportunity to start a debate, start a discussion, as to what is best to help this population.”
Coffman says he’s open to holding meetings with anyone with concrete suggestions to fix the issue.
Advocates say it’s an offer, they plan to accept.