Denver, CO

Denver expands pilot program citywide to help homeless

David Heitz

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City and County of Denver

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Denver City Council is so happy with a program that substitutes paramedics and mental health officials for calls with people experiencing homelessness that it voted Monday to expand the STAR program citywide. STAR stands for Support Team Assisted Response.

The council awarded Mental Health Center Denver a $1.4 million contract through Dec. 31. It will transform the pilot program into a citywide response for distressed people.

The money will pay for five new vans. The program will add more paramedic/behavioral health clinician teams to help connect people to short-term assistance, and long-term follow-up care, the Department of Public Health and Environment said in a memo to the council.

Council member Robin Kniech said before the unanimous vote the expansion is something to celebrate. “We have models that work, our challenge is they’re often not to scale. It matters that we’re scaling up.”

Kniech said the STAR program exists because community advocates, parents and caregivers asked for it. A community advisory committee oversees the program, which also is evaluated annually by the Urban Institute.

STAR helps meet growing need

People experiencing homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse, or all three often become upset and disturb the peace. But such a low-level offense doesn't usually warrant arrest.

Often, the person is in distress because there is something they need. The STAR responders can connect vulnerable populations to services. Sometimes STAR may take a person to a hospital instead of jail. Other times they learn someone is hungry and needs food.

Officials from the Department of Public Health and Environment believe the expanded program will tally 10,000 encounters per year. According to a staff report, the program will serve many people multiple times due to the chronic nature of homelessness.

“Thanks to all the providers on the cold nights, the warm nights, and the tough nights,” Kniech said. “Thank you to all of you on the ground doing the work.”

Help for people with HIV

Also, Monday, the council approved a $3.8 million contract with Colorado Health Network to provide rental help, permanent housing, and other assistance to people living with HIV.

Support services include case management offered through Denver Colorado AIDS Project. The project:

· Makes referrals to healthcare

· Offers support around adherence to healthcare and treatment

· Provides mental health and substance abuse counseling

· Organizes support groups and psycho-educational workshops

· Distributes housing resources and vocational assistance

· Helps with medication adherence and offers nutrition education

Eligible clients may receive up to $2,000 annually in rental aid for up to 21 weeks, continuous or not. The program aims to prevent homelessness.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career at local newspapers. Today, I report on Denver and Aurora city halls for NewsBreak. Prior to joining NewsBreak, I worked several years as a health reporter and branded content writer in the healthcare space. I also worked many years as a news editor and city editor. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver.

Denver, CO
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