The Aurora City Council pulled the rug out from under the city’s homeless services providers last week, slashing their funding for next year by millions due to a shortfall in marijuana tax revenues.
The council will take a formal vote on payments to the providers at Monday’s council meeting. Of the $5 million requested by non-profits serving people experiencing homelessness, only $2 million was granted. That’s about the expected shortfall in marijuana tax revenue from 2023 to 2024.
The council advanced the directive for the lower funding levels Nov. 20 out of a study session. City staff made recommendations for the funding levels but also offered ways to increase the funding by $300,000 if the council so chose. The majority of the council was not interested in that. Staff would have used unspent general fund budgets from 2023 and American Rescue Plan Act money.
Leaving people experiencing homelessness ‘to die’
Council member Alison Coombs voted against funding the non-profits at reduced levels. She said the organizations had been counting on the same amount of money as last year and likely will not be able to perform the services the city needs. “I absolutely object in the strongest terms to leaving our most vulnerable residents who are literally going to die, to die.” Coombs noted Salvation Amry may have to close one of the city’s two outdoor spaces. Funding cuts also would affect Comitis Crisis Center, which may not have enough funding to operate seven days a week. All of these services are necessary for when the city sweeps homeless encampments. If there is no place for people swept from encampments to go, residents will demand council members explain why there are so many homeless people despite the sweeps.
Council member Crystal Murillo said that while she supported Coombs’ position, she wanted the non-profits to at least get something as opposed to nothing.
“Grants” or “contracts?”
Politicians in some cities, like Denver, look at providing services to people experiencing homelessness as the humane thing to do. They speak in strong support of homeless programs and refer to the money they give non-profits as “contracts” as opposed to “grants.” Denver attaches many requirements to its contracts with non-profits, requiring them to provide data on outcomes, for example.
The council had a spirited conversation Monday that pitted conservatives against progressives. Rhetoric ramped up as the conservative members talked tough. “There are a lot of things happening in our world, and I don’t know if we’re going to end up in a bad situation,” Council member Francoise Bergan said. “And just a reminder, there are close to 400,000 other residents in the city of Aurora that have other needs that we also need to be cognizant of. I know we’re always asking for rental assistance to help people get through bad situations and I just think we need to hold off on any budget decisions tonight.”
Council member Danielle Jurinsky offered some budget 101. “I know how budgets work. Go fundraise.”
Mayor Pro Tem Curtis Gardner dismissed the notion that the city should fund these organizations indefinitely. “To think the money from the government in the form of a grant is ongoing and is forever is inappropriate,” Gardner said, adding “I’m not in favor of taking (one-time) ARPA money to backfill grants.” He said, “We all have to go without sometimes and this is the reality of the situation we are in.”
Council member Angela Lawson mocked council member Alison Coombs’ knowledge of non-profits, saying that if she knows so much, then when have the various non-profits fund-raised to support their budgets. Coombs pointed out that providers such as Mile High Behavioral Health Care, Salvation Army and others hold fund-raisers all the time. Bergan said she held a fundraiser for Mile High that raised $10,000 and she offered to do it again but was denied.