The impact of homeless assistance program in Douglas County

Safety concerns discussed

Haley Lena
hlena@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/13/23

At the first Douglas County Homeless Initiative Executive Committee meeting of the year, municipal, county and community leaders sat down to review 2022 and what they plan to work on in the new year.

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The impact of homeless assistance program in Douglas County

Safety concerns discussed

Posted

At the first Douglas County Homeless Initiative Executive Committee meeting of the year, municipal, county and community leaders sat down to review 2022 and what they plan to work on in the new year. 

A stepping stone in the Homeless Initiative for Douglas County was the development and implementation of the Homeless Engagement, Assistance and Resource Team, otherwise known as HEART. 

Through HEART, navigators assist law enforcement in responding to community calls and referrals regarding the homeless and provide assistance to those contacted. 

HEART was initiated in mid-September, and according to assistant director of community services Jennifer Eby,  there were 247 individuals that had been referred to the program. Of the 153 contacted directly by HEART, 37 individuals said they were not interested in the services. 

In addition to nine unoccupied camps on private property identified, HEART has assisted with employment, housing, transportation and provided vouchers. 

“In December, HEART was able to provide case management services to 18 clients, so we connected 18 people to local resources throughout Douglas County,” said Tiffany Marsitto, supervisor of the HEART team.  

According to Marsitto, these services included benefit assistance such as food stamps, old age pension, or Medicaid. Hotel vouchers were provided through faith based and nonprofit partners and one individual was placed into stable housing. 

This month, Deputy Tammy Bozarth and Marsitto came into contact with four individuals who were in need of assistance, some creating a dangerous situation and each of them having warrant(s). The examples given raise a few safety concerns. 

“It’s easy to help people that want help, but the problem is, we have a lot of individuals that don’t want help and they are potentially dangerous to the HEART team, to our community,” said Sheriff Darren Weekly. “As we move forward, we need to keep the worst case scenario in mind as we are making these decisions on how we are handling these issues.”

Looking forward, Weekly said he would like to see a co-responder model - a navigator paired with a deputy sheriff - that is similar to the crisis response teams for HEART. Currently, the navigator vehicles are not equipped with a cage or type of protected barrier between the front and back seat. Weekly sees the importance of having a navigator and deputy sheriff in the same vehicle. 

Chief Kirk Wilson of the Lone Tree Police Department spoke about the proper, safe protocols for any type of transportation whether it be a violent individual or a mom and her child. 

“Nine times out of ten, it’s probably going to be law enforcement due to the folks we are unfortunately running into,” he said. 

In other business 

According to director of human services Dan Makelky, Douglas County is in the process of working with the Denver Metro Area on a regional transitional shelter across Denver. 

Also, in collaboration with Arapahoe County and nonprofit Family Tree, Generational Opportunities to Achieve Long-Term Success, known as GOALS, is in the final stages of being allocated the money and environmental studies. 

“We anticipate that being done and ready to go in the first quarter of this year, so we are really excited and we anticipate that construction starting and programming beginning in the fall of 2023, " said Makelky.

Douglas County Homeless Initiative

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