The City of Colorado Springs expects to keep ongoing funding for the fire department’s homeless assistance program, which has helped move residents into permanent housing and freed up emergency services.
Grant funding for the outreach program was expected to end mid-next year, but the program is now expected to receive ongoing money from general sales tax funds to ensure it has stable funding, Chief Financial Officer Charae McDaniel told a meeting Monday morning. The city will spend $200,000 from general fund reserves to fund the program through the end of 2023 once the grant ends, she said.
Councilwoman Nancy Henjum was among the board members who advocated continuing funding for the program because it helps homeless people with substance abuse and mental health problems connect with services. It also relieves the prison system and the healthcare system.
“I’m thrilled,” said Hejum.
The five members of the homeless outreach team have behavioral health and crisis training and work to build trust with homeless residents and prepare them to move into permanent housing or the appropriate psychiatric treatment. Firefighters can conduct a field assessment and refer directly to the care needed, which is unique, representatives from nonprofit organizations previously said.
“The continued funding will benefit our entire community and will have a major impact on the entire emergency response system,” the fire department said in the written response to questions.
The program has also resulted in a decrease in 911 calls and freed up the highest-level caregivers to respond to medical emergencies, fires and rescue operations, the department said.
Although the program was funded through grants, agencies that provide this funding typically expect long-term funding because a program is successful.
Moving the program to the general fund will ensure program longevity, talent retention and long-term integration into the community, the department said.
The city also expects to fully fund a data analyst position for the fire department that was not included in previous budget proposals, McDaniel said. The analyst creates the tools that measure program outcomes for the department’s Community and Public Health Division, where the homeless assistance program is located. The data is then used to write grant reports and track grant funding, the department said. The position also helps forecast grant spending and program costs, the department’s statement said.
The City Council did not formally vote on the budget on Monday. The meeting was a working session for the board to review budget changes ahead of formal votes later this month and in December.