Advocates for a Colorado Springs Fire Department team that helps serve the needs of the local homeless population are hoping the city finds a more stable funding source for the program before the grant currently financing it runs out next year.
The fire department’s Homeless Outreach Program began in 2019. Its four member team consists of paramedics and mental health workers who spend their days in the parts of the city’s downtown most frequented by the unhoused. The HOP members provide in-the-moment care and also connect individuals with local resources.
“When I am out of my depth, I call the HOP team,” said Kristy Milligan, CEO of the Colorado Springs interfaith human services organization Westside Cares.
“I will tell you that the HOP team works with the people that are the most visible, that have the most intractable problems,” she said.
Milligan was one of several residents who spoke in favor of the HOP team during a recent public hearing on the city’s proposed 2023 budget. The program would need to secure more than $400,000 dollars annually to continue its work beyond next June, when its grant funding dries up.
Jerry White, advocacy committee chair for the local nonprofit Bike Colorado Springs, said the HOP team has been providing effective intervention along the city’s downtown trail corridor, helping keep it safe and clean for all users. It’s a trail system the city has spent roughly $400 million dollars to create and maintain.
“Colorado Springs frequently receives complaints about the difficulties of using our trails due to blockage and other safety concerns,” White said. “We strongly encourage increased funding for services that contribute to the remediation of the problem.”
City council member Dave Donelson told those attending the hearing that the city’s Fire Chief Randy Royal did not list the HOP team as a funding priority in his proposed budget for the department.
“He didn't put it on there as something that needs to be funded through the general fund. They think they can [continue to] get the money through grants,” Donelson said.
Some City Council members have also suggested possible excess funding in the police department could be moved to the fire department to support the HOP team.
The Colorado Springs Police Department also has a separate Homeless Outreach Team.
The city council will make its final decision on the 2023 budget in December.
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