The city of Colorado Springs expects to preserve ongoing funding for the Fire Department's homeless outreach program that has helped move residents into permanent housing and take pressure off emergency services.
Grant funding for the outreach program was expected to expire in the middle of the coming year, but now the program is expected to receive money from general sales tax funds on an ongoing basis so it will have stable funding, Chief Financial Officer Charae McDaniel said in a Monday morning meeting. 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 supported permanent funding for the program because it helps homeless people who have substance abuse and mental health issues get connected with services. It also takes pressure off the jail system and health system.
"I’m thrilled," Henjum said.
The five members of the homeless outreach team have behavioral health and crisis training and work to build trust with homeless residents and get them prepared to move into permanent housing or into the appropriate mental health treatment. Fire Department staff can do field assessment and make direct referrals to needed care, which is unique, nonprofit representatives said previously.
"Continued funding will provide benefit across our whole community and have a large impact on the overall emergency response system," the Fire Department said in the written response to questions.
The program has also driven a drop in 911 calls and that has freed up the highest level caregivers to respond to medical emergencies, fires and rescues, the department said.
While the program has been grant funded, agencies that provide that funding typically expect long-term funding will be identified as a program builds success.
By moving the program into the general fund it ensures program longevity, talent retention and long-term community integration, the department said.
The city also expects to fully fund a data analyst position for the Fire Department that was not in earlier budget drafts, McDaniel said. The analyst creates the tools that measure program outcomes for the department's community and public health division that houses the homeless outreach program. The data is then used to help write grant reports and track grant funding, the department said. The position also helps with forecasting grant expenditures and program costs, the department statement said.
The City Council did not take a formal vote on the budget on Monday. The meeting was a work session for the board to consider budget changes ahead of formal votes later this month and in December.