Colorado Government

Colorado Lawmakers Unveil Spending Package for Homelessness Resolution

Colorado lawmakers want to chip away at the homelessness issue.
Colorado lawmakers want to chip away at the homelessness issue. Evan Semón
As Colorado tries to rebound from a still-ongoing COVID pandemic, state lawmakers have introduced a series of bills that seek to tackle the issue of homelessness.

"This is truly a transformational package of legislation," Representative Iman Jodeh, a Democrat from Aurora, said during a press conference at the Capitol. "Every Coloradan deserves a safe place to live. But that reality is out of reach for so many."

The bills, which Democratic lawmakers introduced on April 18, come after months of work by the state's Affordable Housing Transformational Task Force to come up with policy recommendations.

One bill calls for a $105 million grant program that would be available to local governments and nonprofits so that they can bolster services, sheltering options, transitional housing and permanent housing.

According to Senator Julie Gonzales, a Democrat from Denver and a co-sponsor of the bill, the grant program will also help fund "employment assistance and job training, housing search and counseling services." As she explained at the press conference: "It's meeting folks where they're at. And it's about connecting folks to the services that they need and the care and the housing that they need."

A second bill would provide $50 million worth of funding for a local government and a nonprofit to create a "navigation campus" to help people experiencing homelessness connect with the services they need. The bill would establish a request for applications process, in which Denver municipalities could pitch themselves as a host site for the campus.

"As someone who represents a number of communities that, quite frankly, often find themselves supporting more than their fair share of folks experiencing homelessness, I think it's a really great opportunity for the Denver metro area to be thoughtful and innovative and to work alongside those organizations that do the work on the front lines, day in and day out," said Gonzales, who represents west, northwest, and parts of north Denver, plus downtown.

"We will see which metro-area governments and other private and philanthropic partners step up for the metro-area campus. Absolutely, the state needs the cooperation of local governments to reduce homelessness," Governor Jared Polis said during the April 18 press conference.

A third bill would help fund the renovation of the now-closed Ridge View Youth Services Center in Watkins into a campus for people struggling with substance misuse issues. The Ridge View Supportive Residential Community would "provide transitional housing, a continuum of behavioral health service treatment, medical care, vocational training, and skill development for its residents and the general public," according to the proposal.

Measuring success will be "simple," Polis said; it's about seeing "less people on the streets" and "homelessness go down." The most recent available Point in Time count data, from a single January night in 2020, estimated that 9,846 people were experiencing homelessness in Colorado.

Colorado's efforts to truly dig into the issue of homelessness comes after years of homeless service providers demanding more leadership from the state level.

"Our local communities have been crying for partnerships from the state government on resolving these issues," said Cathy Alderman of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. "And this is the opportunity to do just that,"
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.