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The Caring for Denver Foundation announced its plans to spend $35 million helping solve the city’s mental health and substance misuse needs by focusing on key areas, including young people, better health care and alternatives to jail.

The foundation on Tuesday released an initial report outlining its plans and is accepting public input on its priorities until March 4.

“This report represents thoughtful input from so many throughout the city and will be the cornerstone of our work for the next several years,” executive director Lorez Meinhold said in a statement. “We will take a bold approach to grant-making that will have a lasting impact in our community. We are eager to begin to address Denver’s mental health and substance misuse needs by growing community-informed solutions, and turning the community’s desire to help into action.”

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The foundation was founded in 2018 by Denver voters, who agreed to allocate a quarter from every hundred dollars spent into a community fund, now Caring for Denver, to address mental health and drug addiction.

Over six weeks, Caring for Denver gathered input through community events, over the phone and online from more than 1,600 people from diverse backgrounds, including those who’ve experienced mental health and substance misuse issues first-hand.

From its outreach, the foundation reported that nearly 90% of Denver residents were concerned about the issues of mental health and substance misuse in the city. About two-thirds of respondents said people facing those challenges are not currently receiving the care they need.

According to its draft report, Caring for Denver intends to address mental health and drug problems among the city’s young people by creating more opportunities to “tackle problems at the source,” improve resilience to stress, and increase awareness of and participation in well-being and help-seeking of “youth allies,” such as parents, caregivers and schools.

Beyond Denver’s youth population, the foundation also plans to increase access to local care support, create partnerships with existing community resources and build a trusted community wherein “space, language, mentoring and peer opportunities” are available for people “to support each other.”

Providing more care to people in need will also be a priority. That effort will include supplying more care providers who “understand the unique needs of different cultures and communities,” supporting the needs and training for care providers, and improving transitions and coordination across care providers so that “people can easily get continuous care.”

Another funding priority will be increasing opportunities to divert people with mental illness from the justice system. The foundation will fund opportunities to improve crisis response options, emphasize access to service and establish better connected systems for justice, health and housing.

 “The work of Caring for Denver Foundation will be transformational for tens of thousands of residents, their families, friends and youth who struggle every single day with untreated and undertreated mental health and substance misuse challenges,” said board chair and state Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, who helped lead the effort to pass the Caring for Denver ballot measure. “I am proud to have championed the issue and continue the work.”

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