Mayor Mike Coffman didn't inform anyone on his communications staff that he planned on spending a week as "Homeless Mike," instead opting to tell just one person: Shaun Boyd of CBS4.
So the mayor's staffers were caught off-guard when the television station aired Boyd's piece on January 5 documenting Coffman's week living on the streets and in shelters in Denver and Aurora. And it sounds like he might have needed a little communications help with his story.
"I think that Mayor Coffman's shallow performative exercise was ill-informed. It could’ve been well-informed. It was poorly executed, in my opinion. And that’s what happens when you ignore expert advice," Shelley McKittrick, the former homelessness programs director for the City of Aurora, said on January 7.
Aurora City Council member Juan Marcano had organized a virtual press conference with homeless advocates, service providers such as McKittrick and elected officials from metro Denver, who all criticized Coffman — who was also present, albeit muted and with his camera off.
"While Mayor Coffman may have had initial purposeful intentions...you cannot just dip your toe in and out of poverty or homelessness. Homelessness is not a vacation for these individuals," said Eva Henry, an Adams County commissioner.
Coffman had decided to spend a week living homeless on the streets because he didn't feel like he had a "handle on the issue," he'd explained.
At the end of last year and into the start of 2021, the ex-Marine spent four nights in shelters in Denver and Aurora, and three nights sleeping outdoors, including two nights in a Denver encampment.
"These encampments are not a product of an economy under COVID. They are not a product of rental rates, housing. They are a product of a drug culture," Coffman told Boyd in the CBS4 story.
The people he met in the encampments were not living outdoors because of a lack of shelter, he added: "Absolutely not. It is a lifestyle choice, and it is a very dangerous lifestyle choice."
"To even paint this as a lifestyle choice is sad and irresponsible," said Denver City Council member Candi CdeBaca, who participated in the press conference.
So did John Stone, a member of Englewood City Council, who was homeless from age 16 to 21. "Claiming that people want to be homeless is absurd," he said, calling Coffman's "glamping trip through his city to LARP my human experience...absolutely immoral and disgusting."
Mayor Michael Hancock came in for some criticism, too, particularly regarding Denver's sweeps of homeless encampments. Until recently, Coffman had planned to follow in Hancock's footsteps by pushing for a camping ban for Aurora. Coffman is now backing off from that plan, however.
"I pulled it because I’m concerned that there’s a lot of case law surrounding these camping bans in terms of what you have to do to survive a court challenge," Coffman told Westword before that press conference. "There’s so many requirements that the cure may be worse than the disease."
Hancock staffers had recently invited Coffman to join the Denver mayor and Lakewood mayor Adam Paul in a working group on homelessness.
Coffman has not yet responded to a request for comment on the press conference criticism.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.