Denver, CO

Solutions Center gives homeless place to blow off steam

David Heitz

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The Solutions CenterCity and County of Denver

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) When homeless people suffer, they do so publicly. There is no private room they can walk off to and calm down.

But now the city has a place for homeless people in duress. It’s called the Solutions Center, and it offers help to homeless people in crisis.

The Denver City Council voted 8-3 Monday to fund the Solutions Center through the end of the year for $4.7 million. The center is run by WellPower, formerly Mental Health Center Denver.

Often people in a mental health emergency are suffering from lack of sleep, according to case managers for people experiencing homelessness. Providing a safe place for people experiencing homelessness to rest is the Solution Center’s top priority, according to a memo to council from city staff. But the center also provides psychiatric assessments, group therapy, inpatient substance abuse treatment, and case management.

Taking homeless to rest instead of jail

Clients to the Solutions Center are referred by first responders such as police, firefighters and hospital emergency room social workers. More than 1,200 people have been served since the center opened in July 2021.

The Solutions Center provides a place for a person experiencing homelessness to stabilize for a few days. During that time, case managers work to link them with services such as food stamps, healthcare, employment, and obtaining identification.

With the Solutions Center, police have a place to take people experiencing homelessness other than jail when they act out. The center helps people experiencing homelessness instead of incarcerating them.

Cycling through jail, emergency rooms

Too often, people experiencing homelessness cycle through jail, hospital emergency rooms and mental health wards. Often, after a homeless person is medicated and given a bed for 30 days in a mental ward, they’re discharged back to the street. The cycle starts all over again. The same goes for those who cycle in and out of jail, according to advocates for people experiencing homelessness.

The city wants that to stop. “MHCD shall ensure that the Solution Center is connected to appropriate higher level of care placements as well as long term-options for patients being discharged from the BHSC, to promote the development of a comprehensive system,” the contract states. “MHCD will work with behavioral health organizations and housing providers to ensure that clients are provided ongoing resources.”

MHCD (WellPower) will be required to keep extensive data about the clients its serves. In a memo to council, city officials said, so far, the program appears to be successful at diverting people experiencing homelessness from emergency rooms and jail.

Three councilmembers vote against project

Councilmembers Debbie Ortega, Candi CdeBaca and Kevin Flynn voted against funding the center. Ortega explained that the CEO of WellPower, a non-profit, makes more than $800,000 per year. She also said the organization bills at a higher rate than other non-profits. She believes the various non-profits performing behavioral health services for Denver should be consistent with their billing.

Denver council changes meeting time

Monday marked the first council meeting held at a new time, 3:30 p.m. Moving forward, the meeting will be divided into two parts. Items that don’t require a public hearing will be voted upon during the 3:30 session. Items with public hearings will be discussed during the second half of the council meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. Any business not completed during the first half of the meeting will move to the second half.

Public comment period will remain at 5 p.m. and last 30 minutes.

A goal of fewer late-night meetings

"Modernizing our meeting structure allows members of the public to plan with greater reliability for participating in council meetings,” councilmember Christopher Herndon said in a statement. "We can now give participants a more accurate idea of when their item of interest will be up for discussion, which is more respectful of their time and the logistics involved in attending council meetings in person. This should mean fewer instances of people having to stay late into the night or early morning to participate in the public process."

The earlier start time allows for routine business to be completed during the day. Proclamations, announcements and voting on the consent calendar (routine business) will occur during the 3:30 p.m. portion of the meeting.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO
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