(The Center Square) - Democratic lawmakers rolled out a new legislative package aimed at increasing housing and homeless support services Monday.
The package would spend $200 million to provide workforce support options, increased mental and behavioral health services, and increase the supply of affordable housing, the lawmakers said at a news conference.
One of the proposals would establish a $105 million grant program to support a wide swath of programs from employment training to bridge housing and shelter construction. Another $95 million will go toward constructing more shelter campuses in the Denver metro area.
"We need to address this issue, and we need to address it now," Gov. Jared Polis said during the press conference, which also included several Democratic lawmakers and homeless advocates.
According to the latest data from the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative, chronic homelessness has grown significantly in the metro area over the last four years. In 2017, more than 1,000 people were identified as chronically homeless, meaning they have experienced homelessness for at least a year. By 2020, that total grew to more than 1,800.
Polis described the state's role in solving homelessness at the local level as a partnership. He said the problem lives at municipal level, but the statewide importance precludes the state's involvement in the situation.
"Reducing homelessness is critical, and local and municipal governments need to step up and meet the moment," Polis said.
The legislative package announced Monday would use funds the state received from the federal American Rescue Plan.
Several municipalities have already expanded their homeless services using federal pandemic aid funds in response to the increased demand. Denver rented more than 1,000 hotel rooms for people experiencing homelessness who contracted COVID-19. Other cities dramatically expanded their emergency rental assistance programs as well.
But Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, said there is still a lot of work to do to stem the rising tide of homelessness in the Denver metro area. Gonzales said she hopes local leaders will use the funds from the proposed legislative package to take initiative and fund a variety of programs.
"Addressing homelessness is about more than creating housing," she said. "It's about meeting people where they're at and helping them connect with the services they need."