DENVER (CBS4) – Denver voters this week approved a new retail sales tax that would be used to fund services for people experiencing homelessness. The .25% tax will fund the Homelessness Resolution Program for housing and other services.

It is expected to cost the average household about $5.25 a month. The tax will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021.

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Matthew Chavez says he knows firsthand the struggles of being homeless, he’s since turned his life around but believes the city’s services have long needed work.

(credit CU Boulder)

“It took me jail and prison to get that help, but it didn’t have to be that way,” he said.

For years Denver officials have promised to find solutions to a growing homeless population, made worse now by the coronavirus pandemic.

Cathy Alderman is a spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, an organization that helped get the measure on the ballot and sees the new sales tax as an opportunity to do more.

“We know we have a growing issue with homelessness across our city, and we can’t really scale up the responses we need without additional funding, so this is a big investment from the community,” she said.

The money will be spent three major ways, starting with expanding access to housing resources.

“It will include potentially renovating buildings to create new spaces or building from the ground up and it will include providing those housing assistance services like vouchers and rental assistance,” Alderman said.

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Other funds will be used to improve shelter access and flexibility for those who are often turned away for things like having a partner or pet. Additionally, the community will see those dollars used to build on critical support services.

“One of the things I think we could see pretty early on is the expansion of outreach services so we have more outreach workers building those relationships of trust on the streets,” she said.

Chavez says it’s a key piece of the puzzle missing from the city’s response.

“We need to put money into staffing these people to put people out here and helping the communities,” he said.

Councilwoman Robin Kniech introduced the proposal. She admitted it’s not perfect, but said it’s a start.

“I get asked all the time, ‘What can this money achieve? Does anything even work?’ And the interesting thing about this topic is that the success is 100% invisible,” Kniech said back in August. “Every time we house someone, our community can’t see it because they’re living in apartments, in a home, maybe a transitional housing unit… they are not visible to us anymore.”

(credit: CBS)

The Downtown Denver Partnership said the sales tax is expected to generate an estimated $40 million annually.

The DDP says the money will be used for building housing and expanding rental assistance; expanding the number of shelter beds and access to 24-hour shelters and services; and providing more housing referrals and other supportive services to people living on the street.

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Karen Morfitt