Since September, a new mental health response unit in Aurora has been running and has already seen great successes, the city's homelessness manager said Monday.
The Aurora Mobile Response Team pilot program likely will expand citywide this spring. It currently operates primarily in police district 1.
Aurora City Council will need to approve expanding the pilot program.
At Monday's City Council study session, the council agreed to add an item to finance the unit for six more months on next Monday's agenda.
"We are hearing positive feedback from community members and police officers," said Lana Dalton, Aurora's homeless services manager. People say, 'I wish there were more of you.'"
The pilot program has already diverted 11 people from emergency room care, saving more than $46,000. She said the city saved another $7,500 by not sending police officers on calls. The mobile response units and their counselors also helped two people avoid arrest.
Paramedics, mental health professionals respond
The mobile response team offers an alternative to police when residents call for help. On calls considered non-violent, where no weapon is present, the mobile response team pairs a paramedic with a mental health professional. The duo successfully convinced a suicidal woman to step into the mobile response unit to get some mental health treatment on one recent call.
On another recent call, a homeless couple ran out of gas. The mobile response unit rescued the couple, bringing a gas can.
"These are some of the most sought-after programs in the nation when it comes to public safety response, so we are very lucky in Aurora to have this," Dalton said.
The people on the mobile response team receive extensive training in crisis de-escalation. They also learn about human trafficking awareness, mental health first aid, scene safety, harm reduction, and LGBTQ sensitivity training.
More than 150 calls since September
So far, the mobile team has fielded 152 calls. However, the data shows that more than 700 calls would have qualified for the mobile response team in all of Aurora.
Several City Council members support the mobile response team. Council member Alison Coombs wanted to know if the city could hire enough mental health professionals to expand the program citywide.
Dalton said the city should have no difficulty staffing the team.
She added that Denver recently expanded its STAR program, similar to the Aurora response team.
So far, Aurora has spent $265,000 on the mobile response team. Most of the money came from the general fund, with 30 percent from a federal grant.