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Youth organizations could take hit in trade-off for added Colorado Springs homeless funding

February 10, 2014 Updated: February 10, 2014 at 8:52 am

Money for court-appointed child advocates, rides for the disabled and courthouse baby sitters could be cut as part of the mayor's effort to repurpose at least $5 million toward programs for the homeless.

The prospect of Colorado Springs officials awarding nearly $142,000 to programs serving children and the disabled after April 1 will dim significantly under a plan to use some federal grant and general fund money for emergency shelter and outreach programs, said Aimee Cox, the city's senior economic vitality specialist.

Among the programs that could see cuts as the city moves in a new direction: Court Appointed Special Advocates of the Pikes Peak Region; Colorado Springs Teen Court; Safe Passage; and Court Care for the Pikes Peak Region, Cox said.

Some nonprofit executives say they were notified by the city as early as last fall that funding for youth programs may not be available in 2014. Others, including CASA, were taken by surprise.

"I find that's kind of tragic and a little shocking," said Trudy Strewler Hodges, CASA's executive director. "... I do not think that robbing from Peter to pay Paul really has a huge benefit for the citizens that we serve."

The funding shift offers the first glimpse of possible winners and losers from Mayor Steve Bach's plan to repurpose at least $5 million - largely in federal grants - during the next two years to carry out a six-point plan to reduce homelessness.

In a plan laid out Jan. 30, the city wants to expand emergency shelter beds - mostly over the winter months - and establish a day center. Also, the city expects to increase outreach programs and affordable housing options while playing a more influential role in the region's overall strategy to combat homelessness.

Cox framed the initiative as part of a sea change in the city's approach to paying for housing programs.

Instead of funding a wide range of small programs, the city plans to focus on fewer, larger initiatives. Also, Cox expects to toughen the grant process by demanding more data on each programs' outcomes, while eliciting more bids from private developers for larger projects.

"It's all about impact," Cox said. "We're retooling to have more of an impact with the dollars that we have."

Impact on grants

Funding for youth service organizations amounts to a fraction of the millions that Colorado Springs officials plan to use for its homeless initiative.

Most of the funding that Colorado Springs receives each year for housing and homeless programs comes from three U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants. When factoring in additional income from grant-related leases, those three pots of money totaled more than $4.5 million in the program year ending March 31, according to city budget documents.

Much of that money goes toward refurbishing houses and rental units, acquiring affordable housing units and offering rent checks to people at risk of becoming homeless.

City officials have not said specifically how funding for those existing programs will be reallocated in coming years as the city pays for expanded emergency shelter beds, a day center and other new homeless initiatives.

Cox said they won't be "significantly" impacted over the next two years. The city has millions of dollars in unspent grant funding from previous years - much of which will help pay for the initiative, Cox said.

At issue is a fraction of one federal grant - about $254,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding - and another $134,000 in general fund money on human services programs.

In recent years, the city made a point to help youth services, but now it is refocusing on emergency shelter and outreach programs.

Offering specific details on the effect on youth programs is difficult, Cox said, because the federal government has yet to award money for the 2014 federal housing budget year, which begins April 1.

For now, the city is budgeting for nearly $700,000 less in congressional allocations and program income - a figure that could determine whether enough money will remain for youth programs.

Cox also emphasized that youth services organizations apply annually to receive the grant, and they aren't promised ongoing funding.

"We haven't gotten our numbers from Congress yet, so we don't know exactly how much we have to play with."

Double whammy for some

For now, Cox said she plans to soon allocate $50,000 to help affected youth programs offset potential future grant losses.

Many of the affected organizations faced a funding drop from Colorado Springs Utilities after the Colorado Springs City Council complained of the entity spending to help lobbying groups, such as the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

Utilities officials' decision doubled down on the financial burden confronting some programs, nonprofit officials said.

Safe Passage, for example, lost about $10,000 from Utilities, said Wilene Lampert, the nonprofit's executive director. It now stands at risk of not receiving city-allocated funding, which totalled $17,500 in 2013.

Together, the losses amount to a nearly 10 percent cut in funding for its victims' programs, which offers forensic interviews for sexually or physically abused children, Lampert said.

Project Angel Heart, which offers free meals to people recovering from illnesses, lost $3,500 in utilities funding and might go without $9,727 from the city in 2013.

Despite delivering 77,000 meals throughout El Paso County last year, the organization struggles to keep pace with demand, said Sue Ager, the Denver-based nonprofit's regional manager.

"Right now I have people waiting an average of six to eight weeks to get onto the program," Ager said. "And that really impacts their recovery and their treatment."

Officials of some affected nonprofits downplayed the expected cuts.

The inability to reapply for about $5,000 would leave Diakonia - a nonprofit with five preschools serving 140 children - short only two or three scholarships, said Terry Piddington, the organization's president.

"It's not going to put us of out of business for sure," he said.

The same could be said for Colorado Springs Teen Court, which received $5,000 toward an annual budget of about $250,000, said Debbie English, the program's executive director.

"Every time you receive some of that block funding, they make it very clear that it's not a permanent source of funding," said English, whose program offers deferred sentences for first-time juvenile misdemeanor offenders. "It's not something that catches us off guard."

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