Natasha Lovato / NewsBreak Denver
(Douglas County, Colo.) Douglas County officials will use $1.6 million in state grant money for the county’s homeless outreach team.
The grant, House Bill 22-1377, was created in 2022 to provide funding for local governments and nonprofits to respond to the needs of people experiencing homelessness.
The $1.6 million allocated to Douglas County will support the ongoing work of Douglas County’s Homeless Engagement Assistance and Response Team, otherwise known as HEART. The HEART team includes deputies from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and resource navigators who work together to connect those experiencing homelessness with county resources.
DougCo takes steps to create solutions
After fears that last year’s Aurora camping ban would push those experiencing homelessness into neighboring municipalities, HEART worked to offer solutions rather than putting up additional barriers.
“We know co-response is working,” Douglas County Commissioner Abe Laydon said.
“The reduction we’re seeing in homelessness is truly significant.”
Data from January 2023 indicated that the number of people living unsheltered in Douglas County is down 46%.
The HEART Navigators have experience in behavioral and mental health or case management. They gather information on needs, assess vulnerability, provide complete case management, and make referrals to appropriate community services instead of sending those experiencing homelessness to emergency rooms or jail.
When the Aurora camping ban was initially passed, Cathy Alderman, vice president of communications and public policy for Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, questioned the leadership decisions being made in Aurora.
"Instead of creating these bans, these city governments should pool together to invest in actual solutions and more shelter options. We have a lot of people who are homeless, and instead of moving people around, why can't they use their joint funds to create resources for the homeless instead of just pushing the problem onto each other?" Alderman asked.
Law enforcement and response team partnerships help streamline aid
Douglas County took steps to aid in homeless solutions with the creation of HEART, and the addition of grant money will only further help assist various resources and create a larger team.
The Parker Police Department's Community Response Team added a new officer paired with a mental health clinician. Officer Christopher Calvillo and Clinician Bri Malone will allow Parker PD coverage weekly.
The Parker Police Department explained that the Community Response Teams help streamline access to care for individuals, allowing patrol officers to return to the road quicker.
A patrol officer first responds to calls. If the officer determines a mental health concern, the community response team is called to take over the case, allowing the responding officer to return to patrol.
After the community response team conducts a crisis assessment of the patient, the clinician can immediately refer the patient to any level of treatment or any treatment facility. The team uses a special medical clearance that treatment providers and insurance companies accept instead of an emergency room visit.
Additionally, the team makes follow-up visits and conducts preventative visits to individuals identified as high users of emergency systems to coordinate ongoing care.