Pot Sales Go To Helping Homeless Families In Colorado

By Zachary Siegel 05/23/16

The city of Aurora is allocating millions in marijuana tax money to help homeless and low-income families get back on their feet. 

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Pot Sales Go To Helping Homeless Families In Colorado

One Denver suburb is paying it forward by using money made from cannabis sales to fund a local nonprofit that helps homeless families stay off the streets. 

The city council in Aurora agreed to give $220,000 to the Colfax Community Network, a brick-and-mortar community organization that educates low-income families on how to utilize local services, and provides them with food, clothes, diapers, and other essentials. Councilwoman Sally Mounier told the Aurora Sentinel the nonprofit needed immediate funding. Many of the motels inhabited by low-income families are in Mounier's ward.

Aurora is Colorado's third largest city, and—like Denver—it's looking for creative solutions to help a swelling homeless population. By several reports, the influx of homeless people across the state has been linked to Colorado's legal weed market. Shelters in the Denver area reported that a good percentage of residents relocated to the state for access to marijuana, for both medical or recreational purposes. It appears the very industry that attracted homeless people to Colorado in the first place has their back.

The $220,000 earmarked for Colfax Community Network is only a fraction of the $4.5 million the city of Aurora is expected to gain from marijuana sales tax revenue over the next two years, according to the Sentinel. “We wanted to be able to show citizens that we are having a positive impact on the community and point to specific projects or initiatives to where that money is going to,” Aurora City Councilman Bob Roth told the Denver Post.

More decisions about what to do with the remaining millions are underway. So far, the city council also allocated funding to buy vans for local mental health organizations to aid in homeless outreach, and to make the Aurora Housing Authority's landlord coordinator a full-time position—an important step in facilitating relationships between landlords and homeless people seeking housing. The council is also considering funding a "day center" where the homeless can shower, do laundry, and access mental health services.

While pot sales contribute to a growing Colorado economy, some cities drain resources enforcing laws targeting homeless behaviors such as panhandling and loitering. A report by the University of Denver’s Homeless Advocacy Policy Project estimated that Colorado’s largest cities have spent over $5 million enforcing such policies, negating the funds accrued by taxing cannabis.  

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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