March 5, 2024

Aurora backfills funding shortfall for some homelessness programs, tells others to look elsewhere

The Crowne Plaza Hotel is about to become Aurora’s “City’s Homeless Navigation Campus” at 15500 E 40th Avenue Jan. 23. PHOTO BY MILO GLADSTEIN FOR THE SENTINEL

AURORA | Aurora lawmakers promised part of the city’s remaining pandemic relief funds to agencies helping homeless families on Saturday and discussed ending support for programs not based at the city’s homelessness campus once it opens.

The city slashed grant funding for homelessness aid last year amid declining marijuana sales. Aurora funnels the taxes collected on those sales toward grants and other programs. The pool of marijuana-tax revenue available for those programs shrank from $3.9 million in 2023 to $1.4 million in 2024.

Aurora City Council conservatives balked at the idea of backfilling the shortfall with other city funds in November and postponed a vote on using leftover American Rescue Plan Act money as a stopgap, pushing the discussion to February to coincide with the council’s winter workshop.

During the workshop Saturday, a bipartisan majority of the council directed city staffers to use $124,592 in unallocated ARPA funds to maintain 2023 funding levels for Bridge House — which runs Ready to Work, an employment-based temporary housing program — as well as the Pallet shelters managed by the Salvation Army together with Restoration Christian Ministries.

Residents and staff of Bridge House Ready to Work program use computers provided by the facility. Having access to these types of resources is very helpful to the community and population of the Bridge House. File photo by Juanita Rivera-Guiougou/Special to Sentinel Colorado

Ready to Work is the only program that Mayor Mike Coffman has described as adhering to his “work-first” strategy for addressing homelessness, which prioritizes employment over housing as a path to stability.

As for the 96 prefabricated housing units managed by the Salvation Army, Coffman argued that the city needs to maintain the two Pallet shelter sites as a “bridge” until Aurora’s new homelessness navigation campus comes online, which could happen as soon as next year.

“It’s really critical to have this component there to be able to have a place to put people who are trying to better themselves,” Coffman said.

The mayor’s work-first strategy and the city’s commitment to setting up a navigation campus, where services for homeless residents would be consolidated, were codified as part of Aurora’s official homelessness policy in 2022.

A bipartisan majority also agreed Saturday to earmark $337,520 in ARPA money to maintain funding for Family Tree and provide two-thirds of the amount needed to restore full funding to Gateway Domestic Violence Services and Colfax Community Network.

The three entities specifically help victims of domestic violence and families experiencing homelessness. Councilmember Alison Coombs said the programs are critical since the $40 million campus project as approved won’t include shelter space for families.

“If we are not going to fund anything else, we should at least fund Family Tree, Gateway, Comitis (Crisis Center) and Colfax Community Network,” she said.

Comitis was one of five programs that were turned down by the majority of council members for additional funding Saturday.

City staffers also asked the council for direction on spending the remaining $6.3 million of unallocated ARPA dollars. The council approved using the money to rebuild Aurora Fire Rescue Station 9, jump-start the replacement of the city’s animal shelter and construct a pedestrian bridge with a wheelchair-accessible ramp over Parker Road next to Nine Mile Station.

The majority of the council rejected the idea of using leftover funds to make the Paul Tauer Council Chamber more accessible to wheelchair users by installing one or more ramps.

Despite the award of more than $460,000 in additional funding for homelessness programs, Coffman and staffers said the city will continue to wind down its contributions to facilities like the Aurora Day Resource Center that do not share a location with the navigation campus.

“The navigation campus won’t open until 2025, hopefully early 2025, but there’s some agencies on here where, once we move over, we would no longer fund them,” Aurora’s director of housing and community services, Jessica Prosser, said.

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