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Shortfall in marijuana sales tax revenue in Colorado will impact Aurora homeless

Shortfall in marijuana sales tax revenue will impact Aurora homeless
Shortfall in marijuana sales tax revenue will impact Aurora homeless 02:11

A shortfall in cannabis sales could impact programs for the unhoused in Aurora.

Part of the city's marijuana sales tax revenue is used to fund homeless services. According to the city of Aurora, marijuana funds available to homelessness services agencies dropped from $3.9 million for 2023 to $1.4 million to 2024. 

Earlier this year, the City of Aurora took grant applications for programs serving homeless residents.  

The city received 25 grant applications for a total of $5,297,630.  

The city only has $1,953,088 available.  

Anna Miller with Mile High Behavioral Healthcare says 75% of their funding comes from the City of Aurora. MHBHC offers food and housing support to thousands in the Denver Metro area through the Comitis Crisis Center and Aurora Day Resource Center. 

Their hit from the tax shortfall will be significant.  

"Food is one big thing that we're being told won't be covered. Another is our street outreach team. They go throughout the city of Aurora to encampments, and help folks with basic human needs like water, food, and clothing," said Miller.  

In 2024, MHBHC will receive $963,000. In 2023, they received close to $2.4 million. 

The budget shortfall will not only reduce services for people experiencing homelessness, but Miller says it would affect staffing at MHBHC as well. 

On our coldest days, MHBHC's Aurora Day Resource Center serves 200 people at a time.  

With the projected funding, Miller says it'll drop to about 20.  

"The city is trying to lessen encampments. But with a reduction in services, it's going to increase encampments because folks won't have anywhere to go," said Miller. 

Amber Drake-McGurik and her three children receive temporary housing and food at the Comitis Crisis Center. Comitis offers a variety of programs supporting veterans, individuals, couples, and families.  

"If we have no funding, it's not just single people outside in the cold. It's families outside," said Drake-McGurik. "If you take away this place, you take away our comfort, shelter, our safety."  

City leaders discussed how to manage the shortfall during a council study session on Monday.  

Councilmember Allison Coombs suggested looking for extra money in the general fund to close the shortfall. Some councilmembers say agencies need to fundraise and shouldn't rely on marijuana tax revenue.  

"We are prioritizing emergency services and lifesaving services for funding this year, things that are getting people out of the cold weather as much as possible. We are funding those at the highest levels," said Emma Knight, Aurora's manager of Homeless Programs. 

Some council members want to wait until next year to decide on funding, but others say that makes it difficult for shelters to plan. 

"We are encouraging agencies to apply elsewhere as much as possible. We're always happy to provide letters of support and we've done that with several agencies already," said Knight.  

The council voted to move forward with the recommended budget. The city will vote on the budget at the next council meeting.  

Marijuana sales statewide are down. In the first four months of 2022, the state collected just $117 million in comparison to $143 million in the equivalent period the previous year.

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