Aurora will use some of $4.5 million in marijuana revenues to fund local nonprofit, homeless outreach

"The Colfax Community Network is in extremely dire straits in that they do not have funds to continue operating," said Nancy Sheffield, director of Aurora neighborhood services.

AURORA | Aurora will use some of the $4.5 million it expects from marijuana sales tax over the next two years to fund a local nonprofit that helps area families who live in motels.

At a spring workshop April 30, Aurora City Council members agreed to give $220,000 to Colfax Community Network for operating expenses through the year’s end. The nonprofit educates low-income families living in motels and apartments along the Colfax corridor about helpful community services.

The decision was part of a longer discussion surrounding what to do with $4.5 million over the next two years to address homelessness in Colorado’s third-largest city.

20160503-Comitis-Aurora, Colorado

on Tuesday May 03, 2016 at . Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160503-Comitis-Aurora, Colorado

on Tuesday May 03, 2016 at . Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160503-Comitis-Aurora, Colorado

on Tuesday May 03, 2016 at . Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160503-Comitis-Aurora, Colorado

on Tuesday May 03, 2016 at . Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160503-Comitis-Aurora, Colorado

on Tuesday May 03, 2016 at . Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160503-Comitis-Aurora, Colorado

on Tuesday May 03, 2016 at . Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160503-Comitis-Aurora, Colorado

on Tuesday May 03, 2016 at . Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160503-Comitis-Aurora, Colorado

on Tuesday May 03, 2016 at . Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

20160503-Comitis-Aurora, Colorado

on Tuesday May 03, 2016 at . Photo by Gabriel Christus/Aurora Sentinel

At a special study session Feb. 29, council members gave initial approval to allocating $1.5 million for homeless services from the city’s 2017 and 2018 budgets. That’s in addition to the $1.5 million approved as part of this year’s budget. The money is coming from the city’s marijuana sales tax revenue.

“The Colfax Community Network is in extremely dire straits in that they do not have funds to continue operating,” said Nancy Sheffield, director of Aurora neighborhood services.

Ward I Councilwoman Sally Mounier, whose ward encompasses many of the motels that low-income families stay in on East Colfax Avenue, said the nonprofit needed to be funded “immediately.” CCN also provides provides homeless families staying in local motels with  food, clothing, hygiene products and diapers.

Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan agreed but was reserved about funding CCN for more than a year.

“I believe there’s a value to it beyond just what it does,” Hogan said of the nonprofit. “That value is that it’s an organization that’s been around for years. Organizations that have been around for years tend to catch the eye of funding foundations. The problem with Colfax Community Network is, in my view, there were a lot of well-intentioned people who had no idea how to go out and get money. That’s why they’re in trouble now. Saving it makes sense to me.”

CCN was started in 1999.

Council members agreed they wanted to evaluate the performance of the nonprofit before providing funding beyond this year.

Robert Dorshimer, CEO of Mile High Behavioral Healthcare/Comitis Crisis Center, suggested funding CCN as part of meetings held earlier in the month by a council-appointed advisory group. Earlier in April, Dorshimer met with leaders from Aurora Mental Health Center, Aurora Housing Authority, Aurora Warms the Night and Metro Community Provider Network to make recommendations for how the city should spend the money.

 Councilmembers Barbara Cleland, Bob LeGare, Renie Peterson, Sally Mounier and Angela Lawson participated in those discussions as part the advisory group.

Also during the workshop, council approved the advisory group’s recommendations to provide Comitis Crisis Center and Aurora Mental Health each with a van to be used for metrowide homeless outreach. According to city officials, the cost of the vans will be capped at $92,000, with each van costing between $30,000 and $44,000. For $4,000,  two outreach workers will be funded to operate the Comitis van.

Council also signaled approval for the advisory group’s recommendation to put $45,000 toward making the Aurora Housing Authority’s part-time landlord coordinator a full-time position.

One of the big challenges with housing the homeless is getting a landlord to take them, said Craig Maraschky, executive director of the Aurora Housing Authority, at the meeting. He said the AHA hired a part-time coordinator three months ago, who had so far only been able to house seven or eight families due to the lack of vacancies and willing landlords.

 “Case managers were going out and looking at 60 to 80 units,” he said.

With a little more than $4 million left to allocate, council members grappled with the shape of what a day center for the homeless would look like with funding — a place where they could wash their clothes, take a shower and receive mental health services. They did not come to a decision on how to proceed.

At-Large Councilman LeGare, who serves on the board at Mile High Behavioral Health, said he would like to see the center located on the Fitzsimons Campus, near where the new Aurora veterans hospital is set to open in two years.

Ward III Councilwoman Marsha Berzins said Arapahoe and Adams county commissioners had also expressed interest in being part of such a center and that city officials should discuss financing with the counties before using city funds.

Hogan said it could be difficult to procure the land to build the center on Fitzsimons, given that the city would have to negotiate with the U.S. Army and Department of Defense for ownership.