First and foremost the direct physical, financial, mental and social impacts of the COVID-19 virus need to be at the top of the priority list for the City. City Council can play a role in a variety of ways. Council can encourage residents to follow the current guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. Council can continue advocating to state and federal legislators to receive more funding to support businesses in the community, especially our small, locally owned businesses. Council can continue to support resources such as rental, utility, and childcare assistance. In terms of mental and social impacts, Council can show support for initiatives surrounding behavioral health services, whether it is improved access, reduced substance abuse or promoting better overall health.
Fort Collins is growing at a rapid rate, as many residents enjoy the various aspects of a great city. From our access to nature, employment opportunities, high quality education and low crime rates, people who move here often stay for a lifetime. A challenge with the growth is being able to offer healthy, stable housing that is affordable. In participating in Home2Health conversations over the past year, 6 big challenges were identified as barriers to affordable housing. Following the process, 50+ possible strategies were shared to improve access to affordable housing.
City Council can continue to advocate for assistance programs currently in place and support efforts for affordable housing development. Due to a variety of factors, we have also seen the number of people experiencing homelessness rise and Council can continue to support resources for vulnerable populations.
Fort Collins attracts many people for its' focus on natural areas, outdoor recreation, and the environment. However, these aspects are at risk due to climate change. This summer's wildfires were a grave reminder of how quickly loss of life and property can occur and at the same time a positive reminder to how swiftly the community comes together to support one another. Jess appreciates the City and Council's efforts to fight climate change and would continue to strengthen the goals laid out in Our Climate Future plans. Jess also supports Council's acknowledgement of Indigenous People's rights and knowledge of their homelands and believes Council should increase involvement of Indigenous People in Our Climate Future plans.
Jess also supports expanding open space, but will recuse herself from any Hughes-related decision due to her employment at Colorado State University to set the precedent for a new kind of leadership from District 4, where the residents of the District and Fort Collins are the only priority. Additionally, Jess supports a free-flowing Poudre and will make it clear to developers that the Poudre is off-limits to new development.
On top of the COVID-19 relief mentioned earlier, we need to invest in our economy and make Fort Collins friendlier to small businesses to help them grow and thrive through these trying times. That means offering tax incentives for locally-owned small businesses, in order to encourage residents to start their own business and aid already-existing struggling local businesses.
As with most issues facing our community, climate change has a role in economic health as well. We face unprecedented challenges in the wake of some of the worst wildfires in Colorado's history. However, that means there are plenty of opportunities for us to put members of the community back to work making our city greener, creating sustainable housing and retro-fitting buildings, and expanding public transportation and renewable energy to reduce our community's carbon footprint. Investing in our sustainable future is one of the best ways for us to boost our economic health and fight climate change, and create jobs in the process.
Our schools and children have faced unprecedented challenges, just like all of us, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our teachers have risked their lives to ensure that our children are educated in a safe and effective manner, and our community owes them a debt of gratitude we must repay by making our public schools a priority. Council can increase funding to public schools, primarily to increase staff pay and upgrade our facilities. Investing in our children, the future of our community, is one of the best ways to ensure our community's long-term success and Jess is committed to using her seat to improve our public schools.
Our schools and children have faced unprecedented challenges, just like all of us, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our teachers have risked their lives to ensure that our children are educated in a safe and effective manner, and our community owes them a debt of gratitude we must repay by making our public school's a priority. Council can increase funding to public schools to increase staff pay and upgrade our facilities. Investing in our children, the future of our community, is one of the best ways to ensure our community's long-term success and Jess is committed to using her seat to improve our public schools.
Public recreation is something very important to Jess as someone passionate about connecting others and our community. That includes recreation centers, libraries, public pools, parks, and our wonderful outdoors, including fishing and hunting areas. Investing in all of these services and outdoor areas ensures the ability for our community to gather in a commonly shared space, and access to the services and amenities of the world class city that Fort Collins truly is. Part of what makes our city so special is the tremendous cultural history of Fort Collins. That is why we must work to preserve the character of Old Town, and protect our city's historical landmarks. This means standing up to developers, and making it clear that they will not damage or destroy historically-significant property, in addition to supporting the small businesses in Old Town.
Jess has seen the impacts of food insecurity firsthand, as many of the students she's worked with and met at CSU struggle with food insecurity themselves. Roughly 38,000 Larimer County residents are experiencing food insecurity, with many of them here in Fort Collins. Further, nearly a third of school-aged children in Larimer County rely on free or reduced meals. According to the Larimer County food bank, we need to increase the number of available meals 65% by 2035, and Jess is committed to using her role on City Council to fight towards that goal.
Additionally, Jess will work to increase funding for already existing resources to address food insecurity such as SNAP benefits and mobile pantries, and also understands that we need to increase public awareness of these resources. Furthermore, school meals should be nutritional and include a variety of food groups no matter the cost, especially with so many in our community relying on school meal assistance programs. Access to food is a fundamental human right and no one in our community should suffer from food insecurity.
Ensuring that our community is developed in a safe and sustainable way is one of the most vital means of ensuring our community's long term success and to address the impacts of climate change. Through upgrading our housing and energy standards, we can ensure that new development will use renewable energy, include access to safe drinking water and garbage disposal, and won't interfere with neighborhood livability. Due to a rising population, neighborhood livability is one of the most important issues facing our community. That includes increasing the number of bus stops, increasing the availability of student housing and strategic planning for development so that conflicts within the community are mitigated, and improving our community safety.
Investing in public transportation benefits every member of our community. Public transportation is often a community member's only means of getting to and from work, making it one of the most important ways we ensure our community's success. Additionally, most students use public transportation as a means of getting to and from school, and their jobs as well, which makes it even more critical that public transportation is available for them to get to class and work on time. As the student population increases, we'll need more buses and routes to mitigate overcrowding.
Supporting public transportation can also aid us in the fight against climate change, as riding the bus helps us collectively reduce Fort Collins's carbon emissions. It's also vital that we ensure every member of our community is able to safely access public transportation by making accommodations for the disabled and those who need it.
As one of the safest cities in America, our community is strong enough to support law enforcement and pragmatic criminal justice reform. Working with our new District Attorney, we can increase the alternatives to incarceration, reduce recidivism, increase funding and access to mental health services, and improve our community safety.
Jess is looking forward to helping Fort Collins reach the goals laid out by City Council. Our platform is consistent with the goals in the plan, and we encourage you to view the full 2020 strategic plan here.