Aurora Day Laborers Find Unwelcome Mat on Colfax

For nearly a decade, day laborers have solicited work near the corner of Colfax and Dayton in Aurora. The long-blighted area is at the heart of an urban renewal effort already underway.

Advocates for workers, who are trying to open a day labor center in the area, insist the men must be allowed to gather near the busy corner. But that doesn’t sit well with some business owners and others who would like to see the area swept clean of drifters.For six years, Sandra Gutierrez allowed day laborers to gather and wait for work in the parking lot next to her small shop, which is stuffed to the ceiling with food, cosmetics, sweets and souvenirs from Mexico and Central America. But last month she put up a chain link fence and signs reading “Private Property” in large red letters. Written in black marker is a message to the workers: “Please do not stand here anymore.”

“I had been telling the workers for a long time that if there continued to be problems, I was going to close the area off,” said Gutierrez, owner of Aguila Express. 

Gutierrez has a front-row seat to a conflict that has been brewing over the presence of day laborers in downtown Aurora. Her shop sits within an area of East Colfax between Dayton and Florence streets that has been notorious for prostitution, drug dealing and pawn shops. Long criticized for doing too little to fix problems, and anxious to improve Aurora’s image, the city has implemented an urban renewal project to give the area a multimillion dollar facelift. There are plans to spruce up Aurora City Park and create a pedestrian district with galleries and cafes, all a stone’s throw from the city’s landmark Fox Theatre. But it’s unclear how day laborers fit into the plan.

“City staff respond to complaints from the community, and we have received some regarding the day laborers,” Gabrielle Johnston, spokeswoman for Aurora officials, wrote in an e-mail. “More importantly, however, we try to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Contractors needing extra hands for landscaping, construction, moving and cleaning have been seeking day labor at the corner of Dayton and Colfax for nearly a decade.

On a frigid Wednesday morning, a handful of men stood on the sidewalk outside a vacant furniture store with a faded marquee. A few more lingered across the street outside the Salon de Belleza Michoac