Denver, CO

Denver homeless people taken to AID center instead of jail

David Heitz
Photo bySigmund/Unsplash

Denver’s new jail diversion center, which helps people experiencing homelessness with basic needs, has assisted 40 people since the city launched the pilot program Nov. 21, 2022.

The resource is known as the AID Center. AID stands for Assessment, Intake, Diversion. Most of the services provided so far include sober living and substance abuse treatment referrals, help obtaining birth certificates and identification, and assistance searching for jobs.

Carlon Manuel, the center’s director, gave the City Council a briefing Wednesday during the Safety, Education, Housing and Homelessness Committee meeting. He said the center, located at 14th and Elati, offers food resources, toiletries, and support.

Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, or LEAD, operates similarly. “LEAD is a coordinated response process that supports officer discretion in diverting criminal violations to service engagement, for eligible charges, at the point of pre-arrest and pre-booking,” according to the City and County of Denver website “In partnership with The Empowerment Program, LEAD is an extension of public safety that builds collective and systemic responses to unmanaged behavioral health challenges. This response includes trauma-informed care, wrap around services, and harm reduction principles.”

The center offers a children’s play area and a place for mothers to nurse their babies. Clients may be brought to the diversion center after interacting with alternative police response teams such as STAR (Support Team Assisted Response), SET (Street Enforcement Team), and HOT (Homeless Outreach Team).

Accepting services not required

According to Assistant City Attorney Wendy Shea, people brought to the diversion center are free to go once they arrive. Some may decline the center’s services, she said.

Councilmember Stacie Gilmore wondered what happens when someone is brought to the center after being caught with fentanyl. Police would seize the drugs, but the user would not have a place to safely detox, Gilmore said. The diversion center is not a place for substance abuse or mental health emergencies, Manuel said.

Shoplifting, drug crimes qualify

Police can decide to take someone to the diversion center instead of jail on charges such as shoplifting and illegal drug possession.

Councilmember Amanda Sawyer told Manuel the diversion center should offer mail collection for people experiencing homelessness. Manuel and other members of city staff agreed it is a good idea and something they will consider.

It cost $747,000 to build out the center from an empty shell, Manuel said. Administrative costs run $278,000 annually, which pays for a case manager, clinician, and Manuel’s position. Other agencies such as Denver Human Services and the Department of Housing Stability also have money in their budgets related to the diversion center, Manuel said.

Councilmembers want data

Councilmembers Robin Kniech and Candi CdeBaca want data to show whether the diversion center is working. They wondered whether people who use the center end up getting arrested later anyway. Kniech suggested choosing an academic partner to help with data collection.

The diversion center has been operating as a pilot program in police district 6, which includes downtown, where there are many shoplifting incidents.

In addition to the diversion center, Denver operates a Solutions Center. The center offers people experiencing homelessness with a behavioral health emergency a place to rest and get treatment. Often people in a mental health emergency suffer from lack of sleep, according to case managers for people experiencing homelessness. The center provides psychiatric assessments, group therapy, inpatient substance abuse treatment, and case management.

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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. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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