Colorado Healing Fund again criticized; nonprofit denies allegations

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
After a mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, a makeshift memorial grows outside the LGBTQ club on Monday, Nov. 28, 2022.. Daniel Aston, Kelly Loving, Ashley Paugh, Derrick Rump and Raymond Green Vance were killed in the shooting.

The Colorado Healing Fund is facing more criticism for how it gives out money to those affected by the Club Q shooting. 

The latest allegations against the fund include holding on to money donated by the public, relying on inconsistent disbursement guidelines, and sharing confidential information without discretion. 

In an open letter to CHF, the Bread and Roses Legal Center — a small social justice organizing group offering mutual aid and advocacy — said its staff had "provided dozens of hours of free consulting to the Healing Fund on how to best provide support for LGBT2SQIA+ people and to specific victims and survivors."

The legal center has stopped working with CHF, as Z Williams with the agency said they remain dissatisfied with the CHF model.

In response, CHF Executive Director Jordan Finegan said her organization has had no formal relationship with the Bread and Roses Legal Center. She also  defended CHF's fundraising model saying it was created by "more than 20 of Colorado’s leading experts in the area of incident response". 

"These experts evaluated numerous responses ranging from 9/11 to the Virginia Tech shootings to the Boston Marathon bombing to identify best practices that are now reflected in our policies," Finegan said. "Experts recommend against distributing every dollar we receive immediately because we should balance the immediate needs of victims with long-term needs to ensure that the funds we distribute make the biggest positive difference in their lives."

Finegan denied any breaches of confidentiality, calling the allegation "absurd."

CHF is a non-profit that collects money for victims of mass casualty crimes in Colorado. Following the Nov. 19 shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, state leaders and local officials began directing the public to donate to the fund as a way to securely and quickly support those in need.

In a tweet sent out last month, CHF said it had collected $2.1 million to support those impacted by the shooting. As of Jan. 27, CHF said more than $500,000 had been distributed to more than 82 victims. In a letter released Tuesday, CHF said its advisory board has authorized $1.3 million more to be released. 

All funds are passed to victims through CHF's partnership with Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA). That group distributes the money as it is authorized by the Colorado Healing Fund Board.

Finegan said her organization works with trauma-informed victim advocates, including COVA, to understand each situation. 

"Every victim is unique, and therefore their circumstances and needs are also unique," she said. "We have created flexibility in our guidelines to accommodate that."  

Z Williams with Bread and Roses said their organization has been working directly with the families of those killed and survivors in the three months since the shooting. 

"Survivors are required to submit receipts and bills for reimbursement through the Healing Fund," the law group said in a press release. "This exposes every expense to practical strangers and keeps impacted people in a holding pattern of waiting for relief checks. The Healing Fund has final say over what costs are covered and what costs are not."

Bread and Roses is calling on the fund to release all money in its possession immediately in lump sum, with full transparency. 

Previous criticism of CHF included questions about its former practice of retaining 10 percent of funds for administrative costs. Following outcry from a group called Victim's First and the National Compassion Fund, CHF secured underwriting to cover all operating fees related to its Club Q fundraising efforts.

The fund is holding firm in its promise that those affected by the Club Q shooting will receive every dollar donated to the nonprofit in their honor. 

"We recognize that not everyone may agree with our model, but we also know that there has never been a victim compensation fund whose model has achieved universal support," Finegan said. "The intersection of trauma and money means that we will always have detractors."

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