‘Why are we having to beg?’ Group of Club Q survivors renew call for Colorado Healing Fund to release money

Nicky Shapiro/KRCC News
left to right: Erika Righter, Ashtin Gamblin, John Arcediano, Jancarlos Dell Valle, and James Slaugh hold signs during a press conference in front of Colorado Springs City Hall on June 20, 2023.

Some survivors of the attack on Club Q say they are still pleading for funds raised in their name seven months after the deadly shooting. At a press conference Tuesday in front of Colorado Springs City Hall, a small group called on the Colorado Healing Fund (CHF) to release the remaining dollars in its possession.

Jerecho Loveall was shot in the leg at Club Q. He says he lost his job in February when he had a breakdown after trying to work while still coping with his physical and mental injuries. Loveall says he's had to submit receipts to organizations that channel money from the healing fund for bills and groceries, sometimes waiting weeks for a reimbursement check to come in to feed his three children.

"I go every day trying to figure out, 'Okay, what am I going to throw together? I've got ramen noodles in my cabinet. What protein can I throw in that?'" he said.

CHF is an independent non-profit set up to collect money for victims of mass casualty crimes in the state. It is not affiliated with the state of Colorado, but state and local leaders often encourage the public to donate to the fund as a way to securely and quickly support those in need. 

Jordan Finegan, CHF executive director, said of the $3.2 million raised for Club Q, $2.09 million has been given out. 

"CHF, through our partners, has not denied any recent requests that are connected to the tragedy," she said.

CHF partners with the Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA), the Community Health Partnership (CHP), and a Club Q Advisory Committee to determine when and how distributions should be made. Those groups distribute the money as it is authorized by the Colorado Healing Fund Board. 

"Our most recent cash distribution was $1.3 million in February, and we have continued to disburse money to our partners to support immediate needs," Finegan said in an email. "Every Club Q victim family and survivor who has come forward has received support from CHF."

Wyatt Kent, a drag performer, was celebrating their birthday at Club Q on the night of the shooting. Kent's partner Daniel Aston was killed, along with four others. Theyt feels the fund is withholding money that survivors and the families of victims need to pay rent and medical bills.

"Why are we having to beg? Why am I having to do this for money? It's not right," Kent said. "We shouldn't be nitpicked at every quarter and nickel and dime. We should be afforded it because we weren't afforded the chance to leave that club when a man came in with an automatic weapon. So afford us the chance to heal." 

Nicky Shapiro/KRCC News
Club Q survivor Wyatt Kent speaks as family members of those killed in the Club Q attack, other survivors, and victim advocates as they call on the Colorado Healing Fund to release the remaining dollars in its possession.

Previous criticism of CHF has included questions about its policy to retain 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.

Loveall and Kent spoke as part of a press conference organized by Bread and Roses Legal Center, a Denver-based social justice organization offering mutual aid and advocacy to those impacted by the Club Q attack. Bread and Roses also worked to support people after a man opened fire at Sol Tribe Custom Tattoo and Body Piercing in Denver, killing five people in a shooting that spanned Denver and Lakewood.

Erika Righter owns a business one door down from the site of the Denver shooting, which claimed the life of her best friend. She said CHF has a pattern of ignoring the needs of survivors and the families of victims. 

"It is not a coincidence that the Healing Fund is an organization that does not have social workers or trauma workers staffing it," Righter said. "When [the] community is screaming for help, you should just listen and just do the right thing."

Two other survivors of the Club Q shooting were also present off to the side of the press conference, holding signs criticizing Bread and Roses Legal Center. R.J. Lewis and Michael Anderson both work in administration for Club Q, but said they were not there to represent their workplace. 

"If [Bread and Roses] want help for everyone who feels like a victim, then we have to help the whole city," Anderson said. "I actually agree that the Colorado Healing Fund should release the rest of the money, but Bread and Roses does not represent me whatsoever."

Nicky Shapiro/KRCC News
R.J. Lewis, left, and Michael Anderson, right, were both working the Club Q building the night of the shooting. They say advocacy groups are not equally representing all survivors of the attack.

Finegan has repeatedly defended the fund's model, saying it was created by more than 20 of Colorado’s leading incident response experts. 

"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 reflected in our policies," Finegan said. "We are clear that the money we receive from donors will be used to address the short-term, intermediate, and long-term needs of victims." 

Finegan said the model is recommended by trauma experts because it’s common for victims to feel additional impacts in the months and years following an incident.  

"The long-term component is very important because we are still five months away from the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, and experts tell us to expect additional trauma to surface then," Finegan said.

Ashton Gamblin was shot nine times at Club Q. She said she hasn't had time to cope with the loss and trauma from the attack because of the constant financial struggle.

"We didn't ask for any of this and we just want to feel safe and okay and be able to move on," she said. "I shouldn't be debating whether or not I have to go back to work when I'm not ready just to be able to survive. None of us should. We are tired." 

Finegan disputed claims that CHF has given money to build a resiliency center in Colorado Springs or to Pikes Peak Pride. She said all donated funds have gone out to "directly support the victims." 

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