DENVER -- Voters in the Mile High City have approved a .25% sales tax hike to help provide more housing and services for the homeless.
Advocates call the move, "monumental."
Cathy Alderman, of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, said Ballot Measure 2B will raise about $40-million a year, which will be used to acquire, build or remake 1,800 homes in the next ten years, and to provide medical, behavioral health and other services.
"We know we've had a growing population of people experiencing homelessness for quite awhile. We've just never been able to scale up our response in a way that can address that growth because we haven't had the resources," she said.
When asked about "Denver's Road Home," a ten-year plan to end homelessness during the Hickenlooper mayoral administration, Alderman said important strides were made.
"It certainly elevated awareness. It brought together some very smart thinkers on how to address homelessness and how to use different approaches, but one of the key tenets of that plan was that an ongoing funding source would be identified, and it never was," she said.
Alderman added, "the best plan in the world can't address a problem if it can't be implemented, and I think that's what we saw with Denver's Road Home."
She thanked voters for their decision on 2B.
Denver Ballot Measure 2B
"The fact that voters overwhelmingly supported making this investment means we can really start making significant changes to our response by providing more housing, more shelter and more services," she said.
Homeless resident Serena Silleto hopes the measure will make a difference. She said she became homeless after breaking up with her boyfriend five years ago.
"I was in a toxic environment. He was very abusive," she said.
Silleto said she can't afford rent in Denver on her meager income, so she lives in a tent.
"They make us move all the time," she said.
Many people are wondering if the tax hike will end homelessness and bring an end to the tent cities, which have cropped up around Denver and surrounding cities.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said, "I don't know if it ends homelessness... I think there are too many mitigating circumstances that cause an individual to be unsheltered, or homeless in our community. We're going to do everything we can, and these resources are going to help us address the issues of substance abuse, mental health services, shelter, domestic violence, all those things."
Alderman told Denver7, "We're going to have to spend these resources, and develop programs that are responsive to the problem of homelessness that we have on the ground today, while anticipating the likely increase of homelessness that we're going to see as a result of this pandemic."
She said the system will have to evolve for both immediate and long-term needs.
When asked about the tent cities, Hancock said, "Our hope is that we're more rapidly able to house individuals. Obviously, we're going to create transitional housing. The shelter system will grow and be improved."
The Mayor added, "You know where I stand on this. I find it inhumane to encourage someone to sleep outdoors, or to allow folks to 'tent' in our cities. Its not safe for them. It's not safe for the general public, so we're going to always work to try to end that in our community while at the same time directing folks and connecting them with health services and programs."
Alderman said what Denver is doing should be the focus of a statewide strategy.
"We need to make sure we're being responsive in all four corners of our state where homelessness is growing significantly again, with fewer options for people," she said.
She said the Measure 2B tax money, which amounts to 2.5 cents on every $10 purchase, will be collected by the city and administered by the Office of Housing Stability, also referred to as the Host Office, which is a newer branch of the Mayor's Office that placed housing and homeless resources under one roof, so they weren't separated across multiple agencies.
"We think that will give us better efficiency and transparency on how our dollars are being spent," she said.
Alderman said it's hard to pinpoint how big the homeless issue is in Colorado.
"We have some data points. A one-day count in January last year showed just under 10,000 individuals, but that's an under count," she said.
She said the Department of Education identified 23,000 students.
"Obviously, we know that those students are likely to have siblings, parents, grandparents, cousins, guardians, etc., so we know that increases the number of people experiencing homelessness. We think it's safe to say there are about 30,000 plus individuals and families across the state of Colorado that are experiencing homelessness," she said.