Vulnerable: How our cities are addressing homelessness

Cross Currents: A column by Bill Christopher
Special to Colorado Community Media
Posted 8/30/21

As we know, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the world including all 50 states in America to varying degrees. Starting in February/March of 2020, we quickly learned the importance of getting tested …

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Vulnerable: How our cities are addressing homelessness

Posted

As we know, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the world including all 50 states in America to varying degrees. Starting in February/March of 2020, we quickly learned the importance of getting tested (well, many of us did).

While public health agencies, hospitals and other medical providers provided this essential service, city and county governments played supportive ancillary roles such as providing locations for testing and advertising the testing clinics. Once the vaccines were available, the same providers, as well as private sector entities like pharmacies, offered the vaccinations. This monumental effort targeted most ages, people working or not working, families of all ethnic diversity, people with or without shelter and other factors.

Unfortunately, the pandemic had a major economic impact with businesses closing or simply going out of business. People who normally had jobs became unemployed. In some cases, especially over time, it caused individuals and families to become homeless.

Case studies on how increasing homelessness was addressed

I thought it would be insightful to look back over 2020 and see the magnitude and types of support and services from local governments regarding the homeless population which accelerated during this time. I picked the cities of Northglenn, Thornton and Westminster as “case studies.”

You will see that the bulk of funding disbursed by local governments came from the federal government. It should be noted that state and county funds were involved as well. Also, you will see the impressive amount of cooperation between local governments and various agencies (both profit and non-profit) to put the funding to work at the ground level. Please keep in mind that each city’s population and the homeless populations in each city differ. Thornton has a population of 146,000, Northglenn is 39,000 and Westminster is 115,000. These are approximate figures.

Thornton’s response to homelessness during COVID

Let’s start with the City of Thornton. Basically, funding came from three federal funds sources — Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), 2020 CARES Act and previous year’s CDBG funds plus City General Fund money.

The bulk of federal money went for “homelessness prevention” which consisted of numerous services. Examples include rent/mortgage/utility assistance, housing counseling and navigation, transportation services, health services, child care, legal services and shelter programming.

A total of $1,101,860 has been spent on these services. Major recipients of these funds include Maiker Housing Partners ($400,000), Almost Home ($352,500), Mile High United Way ($122,963) and Brighton Housing Authority ($70,509).

Thornton’s HOT team is working with various non-profits

Previous CDBG funds have been pooled to fund a Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) which City Council approved for a one-year pilot program in 2021. The total allocation is $127,648. That funding includes personnel, training, transportation, outreach supplies and administrative equipment and supplies.

Finally, Thornton General Fund money ($150,000) was used for Thornton Assistance Funds (TAF). A portion of these funds were directed to homeless initiatives. Organizations including ACCESS Housing, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Growing Home, Shiloh Home, Urban Peak Denver and Cold Weather Care received funds totaling $29,500. Funds were used to deliver services to youth experiencing homelessness including crisis intervention, transportation, food pantry, family support and more.

Northglenn partnered with community groups

The City of Northglenn’s focus was the strategic use of federal money via the CARES Act. An approximate $500,000 was disbursed to various local charities that provide a variety of services to Persons Experiencing Homelessness (PEH). They included Adams County Emergency Food Bank ($5,000), Cold Weather Care ($11,250), Food for Hope ($10,000) and Growing Home ($10,000).

Also, a portion of the funding for the listed recipient organizations was used for PEH: Clinica Family Health ($75,000), Five Star Education Foundation ($110,885), Northglenn Community Foundation ($52,590) and Immaculate Heart of Mary Food Bank ($3,000). Also, a part-time Community Resource Navigator position was funded ($13,000) from July-December last year to serve community members who were negatively affected by the COVID-19.

Summary of Westminster’s service to homelessness

CARES Act funding totaling $1,390,000 was used in Westminster for rent/mortgage assistance, legal services for eviction prevention, food insecurity, PPE, hotel vouchers and other minor expenditures. A total of $100,000 of CARES funds were assigned to the City’s Human Services Board to disburse to agencies that deliver direct services to PEH individuals or to those at risk of homelessness. This disbursement occurred in 2021.

The other prominent federal funding source was Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which provided tenant-based rental assistance ($189,000), and emergency and essential home repairs ($130,000). From a housing perspective, $244,000 was allocated from Community Development Block Grant funding for costs relating to new affordable housing sites and $444,000 for the preservation of existing affordable housing stock.

On a related note, the city assigned $6 million of its Private Activity Bond Allocation to Colorado Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) to support affordable multi-family development and homebuyer assistance for income-qualified applicants. Finally, from the city’s General Fund, the Human Services Board disbursed $130,000 to non-profit organizations which provide an array of human services to people in need including PEH individuals.

Walk the talk

Where does sustainability and resource management collide with a continuing steady pace of authorizing new construction in our Colorado cities, counties and water districts? Those elected officials and candidates for local government seats who espouse concern for the environment, protecting our “quality of life” and “following science” need to pause and re-think approving one apartment complex after another. It simply does not reconcile. It “won’t sell in Peoria” as the saying goes, but you can add Aurora, Thornton, Arvada, Greeley, Fort Collins, Westminster and a lot more fast-growing municipalities.

And let’s not forget the county commissioners. While they don’t have the same legislative tools as municipalities, they too should be cognizant of their actions versus their words. You can’t have it both ways. The public is smarter than you think. With the drought in Colorado, more and more people are waking up to the growing scarcity of water while trying to reconcile why another 250 apartment unit development is springing up a few blocks from their single-family neighborhood.

They also are hearing about more ways to conserve existing water resources. Some ideas are hitting close to home and the grumbling is growing. I, for one, do not intend to dig up a single square foot of our sod to allow more apartments to be built.

Adco Commissioners opt-out of mask order

Last week on a 3-2 vote, the Adams County Commissioners decided to opt-out of Tri-County Health Department’s mask order requirement for children ages 2-11. This was a bad call by Commissioners Henry, Tedesco and Baca (O’Dorisio and Pinter voted no).

Elected officials are not public health experts and should leave the “politics” out of such decisions. Plus, you threw the school districts under the bus. Wearing masks make a difference in protection from the virus. The bulk of this age group is in school and needs the extra protection. Putting this decision on each school district is inappropriate given Tri-County’s expertise and earlier mask order.

Let’s don’t have Adams County become the “Douglas County of the north.”

Bill Christopher is a former Westminster city manager and RTD board member. His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media. You can contact him at bcjayhawk68@gmail.com.

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