Colorado homelessness bills could bring more funding, resources to Summit County

Colorado Governor Jared Polis speaks at the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center in Silverthorne on Sunday, June 27, 2021. Polis announced new bills that aim to address homelessness during a news conference on Monday, April 18, 2022.
Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography

Several bills introduced to Colorado’s House of Representatives and Senate on Monday, April 18, would bring more local funds to address homelessness in Summit County if they are passed.

The four bills were introduced on Monday, April 18, following a news conference with Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. At the conference, Polis said the bills address the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Vulnerable individuals and families who are on the brink have been more likely to fall into homelessness, and it has become even harder for people who are already experiencing homelessness to access the services that they need to break the cycle,” Polis said.

The issue hasn’t escaped Summit County either. Brianne Snow, executive director of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center in Silverthorne, said the county doesn’t have exact data on homelessness, but the center regularly sees people living extreme housing situations. In some cases, the center serves families who share two-bedroom units with two or three other families.

“It’s really not your traditional version of homelessness — but really overcrowded living situations where for all intents and purposes they do not have a home,” Snow said.

The new bills aim to support local governments and nonprofits like the resource center in their efforts to help people in those situations.

The bill that is most likely to enact local change is House Bill 1377, which would establish a grant for local governments and nonprofits to spend on homelessness resources, said Summit County’s State Rep. Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon.

If passed, the state would allocate $105 million from its federal COVID-19 recovery funds to the grant program, which would support a wide array of homelessness services.

Local governments and nonprofits would be able to use the funds to support programs that convert existing properties into transitional housing with wraparound services. They could also invest the money into data collection, fund housing development projects, build homeless shelters and connect homeless people to services throughout the state.

“Historically, (Summit County has) done a great job of bringing community partners together to address problems, and this is maybe another resource or funding opportunity for such an effort,” McCluskie said.

Another bill, H.B. 1083, would expand an income tax credit program that supports homelessness projects. The goal of the program is to incentivize support for homelessness services, especially in underserved rural areas.

The bill would also expand the tax credit program so that people could receive credits for donating to nonprofits that provide homelessness services.

The other bills would provide targeted efforts to improve housing in the Denver area, but that doesn’t mean they’re not relevant to Summit County, McCluskie said.

H.B. 1378 and S.B. 211 would both establish government-funded homeless centers in the Denver-area. The bill in the House of Representatives would make the state create a grant program for a local government in the Denver metropolitan area to build a regional navigation campus dedicated to the prevention of homelessness.

The state would set aside $50 million to build the campus, which would provide mental health, transitional housing, permanent housing, emergency shelter, addiction recovery and case management services.

The bill in the Senate would transition the Ridge View Youth Services Center in Watkins into the Ridge View Supportive Residential Community, which would provide housing, behavioral health treatment, medical care, job training and skill development for residents.

McCluskie said the two Denver-based programs may free up state funds that could be diverted to support initiatives in Summit County.

“Not only do we learn from some of those investments and improvements in the state, but it can also take pressure off that limited pool of resources,” she said.

The homelessness bills have only been introduced into the House and Senate and would need approval from both governing bodies before receiving a final signoff from Polis.

McCluskie, who is a Democrat, said the bills, as well as other efforts to improve housing, have received largely bipartisan support.

“In a time when so many political issues become divisive, I think it’s been really powerful to see Republicans and Democrats come together and work on these problems,” she said.

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