Mayor Hickenlooper beefs up homeless funding
By Christopher N. Osher
The Denver Post
Posted: 09/30/2009 01:00:00 AM MDT
At a time when Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has proposed freezing city salaries, laying off 176 employees and slashing library hours, he has decided to boost spending to battle homelessness.
The mayor's proposed 2010 budget would transfer $2.3 million in general-fund money next year to homeless programs, the second year in a row in which those programs have received money from the general fund.
The mayor's initiative against homelessness has garnered $12 million from foundations and private donors, but to avoid cutting homeless services next year and to finance new housing, the mayor is tapping the city's general fund, which faces a $120 million budget gap.
The mayor said the move ends up saving the city money by keeping the homeless out of more costly jail space and expensive detoxification programs.
In fact, the mayor said, a drop in chronic homelessness has freed up enough jail space to allow the city to rent out jail beds to other communities.
Over the past two years, the city also has saved about $2.1 million on hospital detox programs by steering people into stable housing, the mayor said.
"Those are clear savings we are realizing from this relatively modest investment," Hickenlooper told council members during a recent briefing.
The council, which will decide whether to approve the mayor's budget in November, seems supportive for the most part. There are a couple of dissenters, though.
Council members Jeanne Faatz and Charlie Brown said the spending increase comes at a bad time given the deficit.
"I think this breaks the faith with the public and the collective bargaining units, and the employees," Faatz said during the recent budget meeting. "We tell them the general fund is $120 million in the hole, and part of that hole we are creating by siphoning money off. That, to me, is not appropriate."