AURORA, Colo. — The city of Aurora is giving $4.5 million in marijuana tax revenue to help fight homelessness.
City officials predict it will collect about $8 million in marijuana taxes by the end of this year. That is about $3 million more than the 2016 budget had planned for.
Each city is allowed to decide how to allocate its own pot revenue, so the Aurora City Council came up with a unique way to spend its.
At first glance, the classroom upstairs at First Presbyterian Church looks like any other, filled with typical elementary school-aged children. They meet there every day after school from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. where they have a snack, do activities together, finish their homework and hold class discussions.
“These kids are incredible. They’re so resilient,” said Megan Vizina of the Colfax Community Network.
The children inside the classroom are dealing with a lot more than many other children their age though. They are all homeless.
“They could be living in a motel. They’re living in a car, they’re living in a shelter,” Vizina said.
CCN provides services such as outreach, meals, support and supplies for more than 8,000 homeless people in Aurora every year. As the city grows, so does that number.
“The resources here are getting more and more scarce,” Vizina said.
Many of the homeless population live along the East Colfax Avenue corridor, where there are dozens of cheap motels. The old buildings are slowly being torn down and replaced with new developments, leaving families on the streets.
City officials have taken notice of the problem and are stepping in to help. The city council approved $4.5 million of Aurora’s marijuana tax revenue to be allocated to homeless programs, like CCN, over the next three years.
“To get this amount of money from the city is unprecedented,” Vizina said.
Groups dedicated to serving Aurora’s homeless community will use the funds to continue to expand services for the rising homeless population.
“This is a very happy part of my life,” Victor Oviedo said.
Oviedo and his brother participate in the after-school program. They were born in Honduras and stay at an apartment in Aurora, but it is not a stable housing situation.
Oviedo said he enjoys going to CCN every day because he gets opportunities to do things and take field trips that he otherwise couldn’t.
“My mom doesn’t have that much money,” he said.
“It allows them to not worry about where their next meal is going to come from or how stressed out their parents are going to be or where they’re going to sleep for tomorrow night. They get to just be kids,” Vizina said of the after-school program.
The rest of Aurora’s marijuana tax revenue will go to fund transportation projects, a new recreation center and a handful of other local nonprofits.